- Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da
- (ca. 1525-1594)Ital-ian composer. He was the greatest figure associated with the reform of ecclesiastical music by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which sought to end the use of "lascivious" or "impure" themes taken from secular songs and to limit the elaborate polyphony typical of late me-dieval and Renaissance church music. Born in a small town near Rome, in the 1530s Palestrina became a choirboy in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at Rome. In 1551 he was put in charge of the choirboys, and in 1555 he became magister capellae (master of the chapel) at St. Peter's. Shortly after his appointment, a new pope, Paul IV, removed him from the position because he was married. Under a later pope he was reinstated (1571) and spent the rest of his life in that position. From 1565 Palestrina received a regular salary to compose music for the papal chapel. He wrote much ecclesiastical music, bringing out his first printed collection of masses in 1554. Eventually, he pro-duced 104 settings of the mass and some 250 motets and other musi-cal accompaniments for liturgical acts. In his youth he also wrote many secular madrigals, which were first printed in 1555. Although the 17th century created a myth that his Missa papae Marcelli / Pope Marcellus'Mass (ca. 1562) convinced the members of the Council of Trent that polyphonic music could be both reverent and understand-able and hence helped to block a total prohibition of polyphonic mu-sic in the churches, there is no direct evidence that this is so. He did, however, supervise revision of the chant books used at Rome, mak-ing them conform to the regulations enacted at Trent to promote a simpler, more reverent style of singing. For a time he taught music at the new Jesuit seminary in Rome. In the following century, his con-sistent contrapuntal style became the model recommended to those who wanted to learn the art of counterpoint.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.