Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/648

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reasons his appointment was a gross violation of the constitutions of the college, and a high-handed and unwarrantable act upon the part of Julius. All this he knew, and to his credit he hesitated to accept the offer; but his desire to do his best for his family combined with a fear of offending his patron to enforce his acceptance. He resigned his old post, and on January 13, 1555, was formally admitted as one of the Pontifical Singers.

In the course of this year he published his first volume of madrigals for four voices. His intention to dedicate this to Julius was frustrated by the death of that pontiff, which took place while they were still in the press. The book was published by the Brothers Dorici, and was afterwards five times reprinted in different editions by Scoto and Gardano of Venice and their successors. Marcellus II, who succeeded Julius III in the papacy, died after a reign of twenty-three days, and was succeeded in his turn by Paul IV. Paul was a reformer, and one of the first acts of his reign was to weed the College of Pontifical Singers of those members whose qualifications would not bear scrutiny. Among these was undoubtedly Palestrina, and he was dismissed accordingly, along with Leonardo Bari and Domenico Ferrabosco. The Pope tempered his severity by assigning, to each of the dismissed singers a pension of six scudi per month. But not the less did his expulsion seem ruin to the anxious and over-sensitive Palestrina. He straightway took to his bed, and for some weeks lay prostrate under an attack of nervous fever. As might have been foreseen, his despair was premature. A young man who had so speedily and so surely left his mark upon the music of his generation was not likely to starve for want of employment. Within two months he was invited to the post of Maestro della Cappella at the Lateran. He was careful to enquire at the Vatican whether in the event of his obtaining fresh preferment he would be allowed to keep his pension, and it was only upon receiving a favourable answer that he accepted the preferred office, upon which he entered in October 1555.

Palestrina remained at the Lateran until February 1561, when he was transferred to a similar post at Santa Maria Maggiore. At the last-named basilica he remained for ten years at a monthly salary of sixteen scudi, until the month of March, 1571 when, upon the death of Giovanni Animuccia, he was once more elected to his old office of Maestro at the Vatican.

The fifteen years which thus elapsed since the rigorous reform of Paul IV had set him for a moment adrift upon the world, had been years of brilliant mental activity in Palestrina. His genius had freed itself from the influence of the pedantry by which it had been nursed and schooled,—and had taken to itself the full form and scope of its own speciality and grandeur. His first volume had been full of all the vagaries and extravagances of the Flemish School, and in it the meaning of the words and the intention of the music had alike been subordinated, according to the evil fashion of his epoch, to the perplexing subtleties of science. But beyond this first volume few traces of what Baini calls the 'Fiaminingo Squalore' are to be found. His second volume, 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah,' for four voices, shows more than the mere germs of his future manner; and although the third, a set of 'Magnificats' for five and six voices, is full of science and learning, it is of science and learning set free. A hymn, 'Crux Fidelis,' and a collection of 'Improperia,' all for eight voices, written in 1560, obtained speedily so great a renown, that Paul IV, who had dismissed him, could not restrain himself from asking to have them sung at the Vatican, and after hearing them had them added at once to the collection of the Apostolic Chapel. The publication of all these works was made anonymously, and was completed within the six years of Palestrina's stay at the Lateran. So far as is known, the only piece during that period to which his name was affixed was a madrigal composed in honour of a lady with a beautiful voice and much skill in song. It is entitled 'Donna bella e gentil,' and was printed by Scoto of Venice in 1560 in a volume of madrigals by Alessandro Striggio.

The ten years during which he remained at Santa Maria Maggiore formed at once the most brilliant decade in the life of Palestrina and one of the most remarkable epochs in the history of his art. It is not easy for us at this moment to realise the position of church music at the date of the Council of Trent. It may be said that it had lost all relation to the services which it was supposed to illustrate. Bristling with inapt and distracting artifices, it completely overlaid the situations of the Mass; while founded, as it was for the most part, upon secular melodies, it was actually sung, except by two or three prominent voices in the front row of the choir, to the words with which its tunes were most naturally and properly associated. It was usual for the most solemn phrases of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus to blend along the aisles of the basilica with the unedifying refrains of the lewd chansons of Flanders and Provence, while ballad and other dance music were played every day upon the organ. Other irregularities and corruptions hardly less flagrant were common among the singers; and the general condition of affairs was such that a resolution as to the necessity of reform in church music, which very nearly took the shape of a decree for its abandonment altogether, was solemnly passed in a full sitting of the Council of Trent. In 1563 [App. p.738 "1564"] Pius IV issued a commission to eight cardinals authorising them to take all necessary steps to carry out the resolution of the Council. Among these, two of the most active were the Cardinals Borromeo and Vitellozzi. At their instance Palestrina was commissioned to write a mass as a type of what the music of the sacred office should be. With a noble mixture of modesty and energy the great composer declined to trust the fate of his art to one work. He composed a series of three masses and sent them without titles to the Cardinal Borromeo. It