Composer Study is simple. Pick a composer to listen to over a period of time. Every once in a while, play a composition by him or her. Listen to it. Think and talk about it. This month, we are listening to compositions by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who composed for church choirs and orchestras.
Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina composed sacred music during the Italian Renaissance. He was the choirmaster and organist at the Sistine Chapel and at St. Peter’s Cathedral as well as other churches. He wrote sacred masses and motets while managing a very successful furrier business. It was a good thing that he had other means of support because in 1555 the Pope declared that all church musical directors needed to be priests, and Palestrina had a wife and four children. For the rest of his life, Palestrina lead choirs and composed for churches without holding a well-paying position in a church.
We remember Palestrina for his polyphonic works, which layer several independent melodies together. He made sure that any dissonance was placed on a “weak” beat in a measure so that it was less obvious. His music flowed dynamically and was never right or static. His melodies don’t leap between notes frequently, and when they do, they immediately move back in the opposite direction.
Palestrina was very well-known in his day, and his reputation and influence after his death, due to the attention of J. S. Bach, who studied Palestrina’s works by hand-copying the scores. According to Felix Mendelssohn, Palestrina’s influence on classical music was as strong as that of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven (Zannos 40).
- Zannos, Susan. The Life and Times of Felix Mendelssohn. Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2004.
- Photo of Composer: By http://xoomer.virgilio.it/senesino/Dei/Palestrina.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=279907