Great Italian and French Composers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 239 pages of information about Great Italian and French Composers.


The melodious and fascinating style, soon to give birth to the characteristic genius of the opera, was as yet unborn, though dormant.  In Rome, the chief seat of the Belgian art, the exclusive study of technical skill had frozen music to a mere formula.  The Gregorian chant had become so overladen with mere embellishments as to make the prescribed church-form difficult of recognition in its borrowed garb, for it had become a mere jumble of sound.  Musicians, indeed, carried their profanation so far as to take secular melodies as the themes for masses and motetts.  These were often called by their profane titles.  So the name of a love-sonnet or a drinking-song would sometimes be attached to a miserere.  The council of Trent, in 1562, cut at these evils with sweeping axe, and the solemn anathemas of the church fathers roused the creative powei’s of the subject of this sketch, who raised his art to an independent national existence, and made it rank with sculpture and painting, which had already reached their zenith in Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Michel Angelo.  Henceforth Italian music was to be a vigorous, fruitful stock.

Giovanni Perluigui Aloisio da Palestrina was born at Palestrina, the ancient Praeneste, in 1524.*

* Our composer, as was common with artists and scholars in those days, took the name of his natal town, and by this he is known to fame.  Old documents also give him the old Latin name of the town with the personal ending.

The memorials of his childhood are scanty.  We know but little except that his parents were poor peasants, and that he learned the rudiments of literature and music as a choir-singer, a starting-point so common in the lives of great composers.  In 1540 he went to Rome and studied in the school of Goudimel, a stern Huguenot Fleming, tolerated in the papal capital on account of his superior science and method of teaching, and afterward murdered at Lyons on the day of the Paris massacre.  Palestrina grasped the essential doctrines of the school without adopting its mannerisms.  At the age of thirty he published his first compositions, and dedicated them to the reigning pontiff, Julius III.  In the formation of his style, which moved with such easy, original grace within the old prescribed rules, he learned much from the personal influence and advice of Orlando di Lasso, his warm friend and constant companion during these earlier days.

Several of his compositions, written at this time, are still performed in Rome on Good Friday, and Goethe and Mendelssohn have left their eloquent tributes to the impression made on them by music alike simple and sublime.  The pope was highly pleased with Palestrina’s noble music, and appointed him one of the papal choristers, then regarded as a great honor.  But beyond Rome the new light of music was but little known.  The Council of Trent, in their first indignation at the abuse of church music, had resolved to abolish everything but the simple Gregorian chants, but the remonstrances of the Emperor Ferdinand and the Roman cardinals stayed the austere fiat.  The final decision was made to rest on a new composition of Palestrina, who was permitted to demonstrate that the higher forms of musical art were consistent with the solemnities of church worship.

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Great Italian and French Composers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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