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Prelude Listening to Music Today
1 Melody: Musical Line
2 Rhythm and Meter: Musical Time
3 Harmony: Musical Space
4 The Organization of Musical Sounds
5 Musical Texture
6 Musical Form
7 Musical Expression: Tempo and Dynamics
8 Voices and Musical Instrument Families
9 Western Musical Instruments
10 Musical Ensembles
11 Style and Function of Music in Society
12 The Culture of the Middle Ages
13 Medieval Music
14 The Renaissance Spirit
15 Renaissance Sacred Music
16 Renaissance Secular Music
17 The Baroque Spirit
18 Vocal Music of the Baroque
19 Orchestral Music of the Baroque
20 Baroque Keyboard Music
21 The Classical Spirit
22 The Development of Classical Forms
23 The Classical Symphony
24 The Classical Concerto and Sonata
25 Classical Opera
26 The Spirit of Romanticism
27 The Romantic Miniature
28 Romantic Program Music
29 Romantic Opera
30 The Late Romantics
31 America's Emerging Musical Voice
32 The Impressionist Era
33 Main Currents in Early-Twentieth-Century Music
34 Early-Twentieth-Century Innovators
35 Nationalism and Music
36 Ragtime, Blues, and Jazz
37 New Directions
38 Contemporary Composers Look to World Music
39 Music for the Stage and Screen
40 The Many Voices of Rock
41 Some Current Trends

The Enjoyment of Music: Essential Listening Edition


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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Born: c.1525, Palestrina (outside of Rome)
Died: February 2, 1594, Rome

- Biography
- Works
- Musical Examples
- Links

- Composer Index

Italian composer. Leading composer of the late Renaissance. Rose to prominence in the realm of sacred music.

Did Palestrina save church music? This is the legend repeated by various authors, and even made into an operatic plot in the early part of this century! According to this myth, the members of the Council of Trent were poised on the brink of banning polyphonic music in the church. It was only after hearing a piece by Palestrina (often said to be the Pope Marcellus Mass) that they relented. While the story is not true, it reflects a real aspect of Palestrina's life: his commitment to sacred music and his keen interest in satisfying the desires of church leaders in the sixteenth century. His Pope Marcellus Mass is justifiably held up as the perfect example of Counter Reformation style.

Palestrina's career likewise reflects his commitment to the music of the church. He was born in the small town of Palestrina (outside of Rome) and received his early training and spent the great majority of his career in various churches in Rome, including the Pope's chapel. His music was universally recognized as a model of clarity and balance, and theorists of the time constantly pointed to his pieces to illustrate their points. While he did write some secular madrigals, later in his life he renounced them (saying that he "blushed and grieved" over them) and began writing "spiritual madrigals"—pieces in the lighter style of the madrigal without the taint of a secular text.

We can hear all these elements when we listen to Palestrina's music. All the melodies within the contrapuntal web he creates are beautiful, balanced, and comfortable for the singer. The text is easy to understand, and the syllables of the words almost always receive the proper stress and length. Finally, the overall sound is always pleasing and varied. Palestrina treats the various combinations of high and low voices in the same way that an orchestral composer treats the instruments, allowing us to hear a wide variety of colors within a single piece. Palestrina's music is often considered "perfect" sacred music and it is no surprise that his contemporaries often called him "The Prince of Music."

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  • Sacred music, including 104 Masses, more than 250 motets, some 200 liturgical pieces (psalms, Magnificats, hymns, etc.), and 50 spiritual madrigals.
  • Secular music, comprising nearly 100 madrigals
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Musical Examples:

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Gloria from Pope Marcellus Mass 05:37
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  • A Spiritual Biography
    The biographical entry on Palestrina from The Catholic Encyclopedia. This article wonderfully illustrates the place that his music has held within the Catholic church and also explains the Council of Trent's views on sacred music.
  • A Musical Biography
    The Classical Music Pages biography. More detailed information taken from the Concise New Grove Dictionary. This site includes a portrait of the composer and a brief bibliography for further study.
  • Palestrina's Roman Context
    The Music Room of the Library of Congress Exhibition Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture. This site contains a great deal of information about the Pope's Chapel and includes a number of interesting images, including the opening page of Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass.
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