In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Modern and Facsimile Editions
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Histories of Renaissance Music
  • Performance Practice
  • Palestrina in the Nineteenth Century

Music Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Noel O'Regan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0028


The composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was already being recognized as an iconic figure during his lifetime and has remained so ever since. His importance transcends his own life and works because he has come to sum up both an entire period (the second half of the 16th century) and a style (the refined Italian version of a Franco-Flemish prototype in which consistent imitation played a key role). Adopted particularly by the Roman Catholic Church, his style came to be seen as the ideal means of setting sacred texts in the liturgical context. For centuries, too, Palestrina’s music has been used as a model in composition teaching, with generations of composers having been trained in counterpoint by analyzing and imitating his music. The historiography of Palestrina began with Giuseppe Baini’s ground-breaking Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina of 1828 (see General Overviews), the first life and works study of a composer to use archival and source studies as a basis. More than just a study of Palestrina, it described the institutional contexts in which he worked and the music that survives in them, as well as the antecedents and followers of the composer. The interest awakened by this book coincided with the post-Napoleonic and Romantic interest in conserving and restoring the cultural heritage of the past. This was the spur for a major collecting project, undertaken by people like the Roman Fortunato Santini and the Bavarian Carl Proske, in which music by Palestrina and his contemporaries was transcribed and edited from original sources found in various Roman and other libraries. This material was to form the basis for the first complete edition of Palestrina’s works by Franz X. Haberl and others (see Modern and Facsimile Editions), published between 1862 and 1907. German scholarship has continued to provide a lead, particularly through Heidelberg University’s late 20th-century research project on the music of the Sistine Chapel, and the work of Winfried Kirsch and his collaborators on Palestrina’s influence on 19th-century music (see Conference Proceedings). Italian interest in Palestrina was stimulated by the centenary years of 1894 and 1925, while 1939 saw the start of a second complete edition under the editorship of Raffaele Casimiri (see Modern and Facsimile Editions). In recent years the major center for research into the composer has been the Fondazione Pierluigi da Palestrina, based in the house in which the composer was born; under the guiding spirit of Giancarlo Rostirolla, a series of international conferences on Palestrina and his contemporaries has been organized, a new complete edition is in progress, and a series of facsimile editions and other publications have been issued (see Reference Resources, Modern and Facsimile Editions, Conference Proceedings). The 1994 quatercentenary gave a particular boost to Palestrina scholarship, resulting in a spurt of articles in journals such as Early Music in the years immediately following (see Palestrina’s Working Environment, The Council of Trent and Its Aftermath, and Performance Practice).

General Overviews

Both Grove Music Online and Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart contain good recent summaries of Palestrina’s life and works (see Reference Resources). Baini’s pioneering 1828 study (Baini 1966) is still worth reading from a historicist point of view. Brenet 1906 is a generally reliable guide in French, though no longer up to date biographically. Cametti’s contribution to the tercentenary of the composer’s death in 1894 (Cametti 1994) brought much new information and a critical sense to the biographical side, which Coates 1938 filtered through for English-speaking readers. Fellerer 1960’s treatment of the music was a breakthrough for its time, particularly in its diagrammatic representation of textures. It was taken over in Italian translation into Bianchi and Fellerer 1971, supplemented by Bianchi 1995’s updating of the composer’s life. Heinemann 1994 presents the German reader with an up-to-date biography, as does Della Sciucca 2009 for Italians, with the latter’s discussion of the music adding some pertinent observations.

  • Baini, Giuseppe. Memorie storico-critiche della vita e della opera di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. 2 vols. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms, 1966.

    Originally published in 1828. The earliest study of the composer and his milieu, which made good use for its time of contemporary documents. A rambling and rather hagiographic work, it did much to promulgate the myth of Palestrina as a “great” composer in the Romantic sense. While much is no longer reliable, it is worth reading for the insights it gives into the attitudes of its time.

  • Bianchi, Lino. Palestrina nella vita, nelle opere, nel suo tempo. Palestrina, Italy: Fondazione Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, 1995.

    An enlarged version of Bianchi and Fellerer 1971, replacing Fellerer with Bianchi’s own discussion of the works. Bianchi’s approach is descriptive and rather encyclopedic, which makes it a bit difficult to pick out the nuggets, but there is much of value here.

  • Bianchi, Lino, and Karl G. Fellerer. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Turin, Italy: Edizioni RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, 1971.

    An excellent biographical study with numerous illustrations makes up the first half of this volume. For the second half, Lorenzo Bianconi translated the sections of Fellerer 1960 dealing with the works. This is supplemented by a short discussion of Palestrina’s madrigals by Bianchi.

  • Brenet, Michel. Palestrina. Paris: Alcan, 1906.

    An important French biography which, for its time, took a sensible and wide-ranging view of the composer and his work.

  • Cametti, Alberto. Palestrina. Facsimile ed. Rome: Fondazione Pierluigi da Palestrina, 1994.

    The culmination of considerable biographical research by Cametti that started with the first edition of this book in 1894. Somewhat hagiographical in its approach, it is nevertheless thorough and accurate in the information it provides. There is little or no discussion of the music. Also published in 1925 (Milan: Bottega di Poesia).

  • Coates, Henry. Palestrina. Master Musicians Series. London: Dent, 1938.

    The major early survey of the composer’s life and works in English. Now rather dated and reflecting received opinions rather than questioning them, it nevertheless presents a readable account. Includes a works list.

  • Della Sciucca, Marco. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Palermo, Italy: L’Epos, 2009.

    This well-integrated account in Italian provides the most recent synthesis of Palestrina’s life and works. Incorporates recent research and contains a stimulating essay on reception history and aesthetics. Includes a works list, taken from Grove Music Online, a bibliography, and some useful illustrations.

  • Fellerer, Karl G. Palestrina: Leben und Werk. Düsseldorf: Musikverlag Schwann, 1960.

    This is a classic treatment of Palestrina’s music by an author with an extensive knowledge of its style and who developed innovative methods to deal with it. His diagrams illustrating texture continue to be particularly illuminating. Includes a summary treatment of the composer’s life. Originally published 1930.

  • Heinemann, Michael. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina und seine Zeit. Laaber, Germany: Laaber Verlag, 1994.

    An up-to-date biography in German, written for the nonspecialist reader. There is a detailed chronology that includes contemporary events, a catalog of works, and a good bibliography.

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