Palestrina's name derives from the town of Palestrina, situated in the Sabine hills near Rome. Informally known as Giannetto he usually signed himself "Giovanni Petraloysio", only once using the name by which we know him today . It is in the registers of the prestigious churches of Rome that we first find mention of him as Giovanni da Palestrina, and he sang with several choirs before his appointment as organist at the cathedral of S Agapito in his home town.
In 1551, Palestrina was appointed maestro of the Cappella Giulia and returned to Rome to teach there. Once back in the capital, his career advanced steadily within the church, and by 1555 he was admitted to the Sistine Chapel. It was quite possibly in this year that he wrote his Missa Papae Marcelli. This work is thought to reflect a new papal edict that church music should make the text as clear as possible and that the mood of the piece should be in keeping with its message. Whether or not the Missa Papae Marcelli was the first of Palestrina's pieces to take this into consideration, he was certainly at the forefront of ushering in this new trend.
From 1555 to 1560 he was maestro di cappella at St John Lateran, but left following a dispute over funding. He returned to S Maria Maggiore, then for the last 23 years of his life worked as choirmaster at the Cappella Guilia. During these years he lost many relatives to the plague, and considered taking holy orders. However, a romance with a wealthy widow led him to marry instead and he spent his last years composing in security.
Not many of Palestrina's works can be accurately dated, which makes any analysis of how he evolved as a composer rather difficult. We can, however, marvel at the huge body of work he left - over 100 masses, 375 motets and 140 madrigals to start with. His mastery of counterpoint puts him up with Renaissance masters such as Orlande de Lassus and William Byrd, and has been a revered model for composers from Fux to Stravinsky .
- MIDI FILE - Alma redenptoris Mater (2'16'')
- MIDI FILE - Voi mi poneste in foco (2'16'')