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Classical Composers A-Z: Giovanni da Palestrina

Peter Wintersgill outlines the life of Giovanni da Palestrina, organist at Capella Giulia in Rome, where he wrote his first book of masses, and from which he was sacked for being married.

Born
17th December, 1525, in Palestrina near Rome.

Father
Santo.

Childhood
Choir boy at St. Maria Maggiore in Rome at 12.

Adult Life
Organist at Palestrina Cathedral at 19.

Married Lucrezia at 22, who bore him three sons. He moved every few years after this; he was organist at Capella Giulia in Rome, where he wrote his first book of masses, and from which he was sacked for being married!

He moved next to St. John Lateran, where he wrote his Lamentations, then returned to St. Maria Maggiore, where he wrote his first book of motets. He then spent a few years in the service of Cardinal Ippolito, where he wrote his second book of masses.

He returned to the Capella Giulia as Musical Director in 1571, where he wrote his 4th book of motets in 1584, and stayed there until his death.

There were epidemics of plague during the 157O's, during which he lost his wife, two sons and two brothers; he caught the plague himself, but recovered.

After this he considered ordination, but thought better of it, for he married a wealthy widow instead, and proved successful in managing her affairs.

As was common in those days, he wrote mainly church music, but also a good many madrigals. Among notable church works were the Stabat mater and the Assumpta est Maria mass.

Palestrina was highly thought of by his patrons and colleagues alike, from just before his death and for many years after. He evidently thought highly of himself as well, as he was turned down for posts in Mantua and Vienna for asking too high a salary.

He died in Rome 2nd February, 1594, aged 69.

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