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Anecdotes of music, historical and biographical; online

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April 19, 1813.


jMCelody, the chUd of fancy, was still held in
Gothic chains, and the subject of every movement
was invariable.

To check imagination's wild vagaries, and restrain
her wanton flighty in the solemnity of supplication,
humility of contrition, funereal sorrow, or even the
cheerful song of gladness and thanksgiving, when
addressed to the Divinity, during the celebration of
sacred rites in the temple/ is not only required by
propriety, but duty ; yet, as the confining music en-
tirely to religious purposes borders on fanaticism, so
the treating secular and light subjects with eccle-

vol. n. B

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siastical gravity, making a fugue of every movement,
and regarding grace, elegance, and fertility of in-
vention, as criminal, or at best, as frivolous, are
equally proofs of a deficiency in taste and candour.

What kind of music the Italians cultivated before
the general use of counterpoint was established, we
cannot ascertain ; but we find, in the lives of their
first painters, that many of them had been brought
up to music as a profession. Leonardo da Vinci,
for instance, was an excellent performer on several
instruments, and invented a new species of lyre in
the shape of a horse's skull.

Great natural powers frequently astonish and
charm without much assistance from art ; and so
late as the year 1547, Pietro Aaron gives a list of
inch extraordinary performers as were able to sing
from notes " cant are a libra " by which we may
suppose that the art was then in its infancy. .

And, according to Tartini, " the old Italian songs
being only. made for a single voice, were simple in
the highest degree ; partaking of die nature of retu
Uttive, but largo" (as the gondoliers of Venice s&H
sing the stanzas of Tftftse.) " None were confined
to regular bars, and the key was determined by the
quality and compass of voice that was to sing them."

During the sixteenth century, however, when the
works q£ Paleetcina appeared, the Italians may, with

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justice, be said to have given instructions to the rest
of Europe, in counterpoint, as ever since the esta-
blishment of operas, they have done in singing.

It has been frequently observed, that die life of a
studious man, whose mind is more active than his
body, affords few materials for biography, even if
every transaction of his life were known ; but at a
remote period, when every lineament and trace of
character is obliterated, it is with difficulty that the
time and place even of his existence can be ascer-
tained, or the works enumerated, which his genius
and diligence have produced.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestbina, whose
works have been so justly admired and celebrated, is
of this class ; for little more has been recorded of his
life, than if it had been wholly spent in a hermitage.
His birth, however, has been fixed, with some de-
gree of certainty, in the year 1529, at Palest rina $
the Prenesteof the ancients.

Italy being at that time, and till very lately, divided
into many independent states, each of which had a
distinct and separate honour to maintain ; the na-
tives are not only very careful in settling the spot
where a man of genius was born, but of recording
the place where he was educated, together with the
name of his master ; and as the painters of Italy are
appropriated to their different schools, so are the

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musicians ; and a composer or performer of eminent
abilities is seldom mentioned without his country, by
which it is known that he is of the Roman, Vene-
tian, Neapolitan, Lombard, or Bolognese school,
each of which has some peculiar characteristic, that
enables one intelligent musician of Italy immediately
to discover the school of another, by his works or
performance. To these distinctions the natives of
other countries so little attend, that when it is said a
musician comes from Italy, no further inquiry is

From this ancient custom of naming the master
with the scholar, and his country, all the writers of
Italy who have given any account of Palestrina
have thought it necessary to say that he was a pupil
of Gaudio Mell, Fiamingo, a Fleming ; by whom
they have been generally understood to mean Claud
Goudimel, a native of Franche-Comt£, and a Hu-
guenot, who was among the first who set the trans-
lation of the Psalms by Clement Marot, and Theo-
dore Beza, to music - r and who was murdered at
Lyons in 1572, during the massacre on St. Bartho-
lomew's Day.

From the few circmmstances and outlines of Pa-
lestrina's life, which have been preserved, we may
collect, that he was born in the year 1589; and
that, having distinguished himself as a composer, he

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was admitted, about 1555, into the Pope's Chapel
at Rome. In 1562, at the age of thirty-three, he
was elected Maesto di Capella of Santa Maria
Maggiore, in the same city ; and upon the death of
Giovanni Animuccia, iu 1571, he was honoured
with a similar appointment at St. Peter's ; and last-
ly, having brought choral harmony to a degree of
perfection that has never since been exceeded, he
died in the- year 1594, at the age of sixty-five.

The following account of his death and burial was
entered in the register of the Pontifical Chapel, by
Ippolito Gamboce, Puntatore, who, at that time,
had the care of the records.

u February the 2d, 1594. This morning died
u the most excellent musician, Signor Giovanni
" Pierloisci, our dear companion, and Maestro di
41 Capella of St. Peter's Church, whither his fune-
44 ral was attended, not only by all the musicians of
" Rome, but by an infinite concourse of people,
44 when Libera me, Dotnine, was sung by the whole
44 College." To this account Adami adds that of
Torrigio, who says: "In St. Peter's Church,
44 near the altar of St. Simon and St. Jude, was
14 interred, in consequence of his extraordinary
44 abilities, Pierluigi da Palestrina, the great
44 musical composer; and Maestro di Capella of
" this church. His funeral was attended by all

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" the musicians of Rome ; and i Libera me, Do*
" mine/ as composed by himself in five parts,
" was sung by three choirs. Upon his coffin was
" this inscription, ' Joannes Petrus Aloysius Prar
" nestinus Musica Princeps.' "

It were endless to transcribe all the eulogiums
that have been bestowed upon Palestrina, by mu-
sical writers, though he has seldom been mentioned
by others ; but it is left to artists to take care of
their own fame, and that of their brethren. Heroes
indeed are consigned to historians, and the learned
are seldom negligent of themselves.

However, very honourable mention was made of
our great contrapuntist, during his lifetime, by Gio-
vanni Guidetto, chaplain to Pope Gregory the
Thirteenth; who being appointed to collate, col-
lect, and regulate the choir service of St. Peter's
church, in 1582, says, that he was unwilling to
depend solely oo his own judgment in this under-
taking, and therefore had applied to that prince of
musicians, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, to
superintend and correct the whole work; an office,
which be was so obliging as to undertake. " And
" (he adds) if the compilation be found to have any
" merit, it must be chiefly ascribed to his kind as- -
" sistance."

Some judgment may be formed of tbe great

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veneration in which be was held by contemporary
professors, from a collection of. Psalms, m fire
parts, that was published in 159$, and dedicated to
Palestrina, by fourteen of the greatest masters of
Italy at that time.

By the friendly assistance of Signor Santarelli,
Dr. Barney procured, when be was at Rome, a
complete cataloguer of all the genuine productions
of Pakstrina, with the several dates and forms of
their publication, tide of each piece, and the name
and residence of the printer. These are classed in
the following manner*

Masses in four, five, and six parts— of which
Book 1st. appeared at Rome in folio, 1554, when
the author was in the twenty-fifth year of his age;
and in that city only went through three several
editions daring his life. Book 2d. of his Masses*
which includes the celebrated composition, intitkd
MisftA Papjb Mahc&lli, was published at Rome,

Of thiw production, k has been related by Anto-
nio Liberati, and after him byAdami, and other
musical writers, that the Pope and conclave, being
offended and scandalized at die right and injudicious
manner in which the Mass had been long set and
performed, determined to banish music in parts en*
teeiy from the church; but that Pttatrma, at the

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age of twenty-six, during the short pontificate of
Marcellus Cervinus, entreated his Holiness to sus-
pend the execution of -his design, till he had heard
a Mass, composed in what, according to his ideas,
was the true ecclesiastical style.

His request being granted, this composition in
six parts, was performed at Easter, 1555, before the
Pope and college of Cardinals; who found it so
grave, noble, elegant, learned, and pleasing, that
music was restored to favour, and again established
in the celebration of sacred rites.

This Mass was afterwards printed, and dedicated
to the successor of Marcellus, Pope Paul the
Fourth, by whom Palestrina was appointed Maes-
tro di Cfcpella to the pontifical chapel.

The friends of choral music will doubtless be
curious, to have a faithful and minute account of a
composition, which had sufficient power to pre-
serve their favourite art from disgrace and excom-

Dr. Burney assures us, from an accurate score,
procured for him by Signor Santarelli, out of the
Sistine chapel, where if is still performed, that it is
the most simple of all Palestrina's works : no
canon, inverted fugue, or complicated measures,
having been attempted throughout the composition ;
the style is solemn — the harmony pure — and, by its

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facility, the performer and hearer are equally ex-
empted from trouble.

The rest of his Masses appeared in the following
order. — Book III. Roma per Valerium Doricum,
1570, in folio, Ven. 1599- Book IV. Venet. per
Ang. Gardanum, 1582, quarto. V. Roma, 1590.
VI. Ven. 1596. VII. 1594. VIII. and IX. Ven.
1599. X. and XL Ven. 160a And XII. with-
out date or name of the. printer. Besides this regu-
lar order of publication, these Masses were re-
printed in different forms and collections, during the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in most of the
principal cities of Italy.

The next division of Palestrina's works consists
of Motets for five, six, seven, and eight voices, in
five books, printed at Rome and Venice, 1569, 1588,
1589, 1596, 1601.

Motets for four voices, Lib. I. Roma*, 1590.
II. Venet. 1604.

Two books of Offertorii, a 5, e a 6 voc.
Roma;, 1593.

Lamentation! a 4 voc. Roma?, 1588.

Hymns for 5 voices, Ven. i598.

Litanie, a 4 voc. Ven. 1600.

Magnificat, 8 tonum, Romae, 159L And

Madrigali Spirituali, two books, Rome and
Venice, 1594.


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To this list % are to be added, La Cantica di
Salomone, a 5 ; two other books of Magnificats*
a 4, 5, e6.voc. ; one of Lamentationi, a 5; and
another of secular madrigals. These have been
printed in miscellaneous publications, after die
author's death ; and there still remain in the Papal
chapel, unedited, another Mass, a 4, upon the
bexachord, ut, re, mi> fa, sol, la ; his Missa Deftmc-
torum, a 5 ; and upwards of twenty motets, chiefly
for 8 voices, a due cori.

Nothing more remains to be related of Pales-
trina, except, that most ot his admirable produc-
tions still subsist. Few of his admirers, indeed, are
possessed of the first editions of all has works com*
plete, in print or manuscript : yet curious and dili-
gent collectors hi Italy can still, with little difficulty,,
furnish themselves with a considerable number of
these models of counterpoint, and ecclesiastical

If we consider the slow manner in which works
. of this description are conducted, from die many
real parts they contain, and of which some are
generally moving in canon, and the rest always in
fugue, we shall be as much astonished at the num-
ber of his productions, as pleased with their effects.
The works of Aristotle, Cicero, or the Elder Pliny,
among the ancients, or of Fabricius among the

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moderns, were hardly more numerous* With the
union; indeed, of great erudition, and great mk**
try, we are not surprised; b«t Genius, is addon
so voluminous.
, Palestrina having brought bit style to such per-
fection, that the best compositions which, have been
produced for the church grace his time, are pro*
verbtally said to be alia Palestrina, this appears to
be the proper place to discuss its merit.

Though good taste has banished fugue, canon,
and elaborate composition from the stage, yet sound
judgment has still retained them in the church ; to
which, from the little use that is made of them else-
where, they are now in a manner appropriated.*

On this account, like the canto fermo of the

* There seems no more impropriety in their being
occasionally used in the chamber, than private prayer
or family devotion. — It is to be wished, however, that
the church and stage were wholly separated : for surely,
whoever represents the rites of the church in the the-
atre, or introduces theatrical levity into the church r
betrays a deficiency of taste and judgment, and a total
disregard of the reverence due to the religion of his

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Romish service, however one chant may resemble
another, and the subject and modulation of fugues
may be stolen, yet they will still be in the style of
choral music, and never awaken ideas of secular
songs, or profane transactions.

In the compositions of Palestrina, there is in-
deed no unity of melody ; but as all the parts have
an equal share of importance, and as hardly a note-
appears in them, without some peculiar intention and
effect, they cannot, like the remplissage of a modern
concerto or opera song, be composed with as much
rapidity as they could be transcribed : little inven-
tion and few flights of fancy are required : yet there
is a degree of genius in finding a few uncommon
notes that are favourable to fugue and canon, as
well as in creating new and graceful passages in
melody. Indeed, both the choral and secular styles
have their peculiar difficulties, beauties, and de-

Whoever is accustomed to the vocal fugues of
Palestrina, Carissimi, or Handel, will be fastidious
with respect to those of other composers of equal
learning. Preaching upon a text has been called a
Gothic contrivance ; and yet, what admirable les-
sons of piety and virtue have Tbeen produced under
the denomination of sermons! Thus fire, genius,
and harmonical resources are discoverable in fugues,

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is well as in modem songs, solos, and concertos.
A musical student, therefore, unacquainted with the
laws of fugue, is advanced but a little way in com-
position ; as the bearer, who receives no pleasure
from ingenious contrivance and complicated har-
mony, is but a superficial judge. The legitimate
and main object of criticism should ever be, to re-
solve the discords of contention, to augment the
gratification of both parties, and extend the com-
pass of their views ; that, like music, composed d
due cori, the friends of harmony and melody may
agree, though performing different parts at a distance
from each other.

To return to Palestrina. — It appears, from the
works of this most venerable and exquisite har-
monist^ that he had not only studied the greatest
masters of his own time, but those also of the pre-
ceding century ; and after vanquishing the difficul-
ties of their style and contrivances, he demonstrated
in his early works, that he could bring them all into
action, together with the admirable improvement of
a more polished harmony, and a more flowing me-
lody, consulting in every difficult enterprize the ear
more frequently than the eye.

He not only knew, say* Padre Martini, how to
avoid die roughness, but likewise the languor of

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anterior composers; and witha hanfcooy more full
and gratefal, he infused a modest and decent cheer-
fulness info the melody of every part ; and, without
incommoding die singer by unnatural difficulties
formed a complete whole.

However, notwithstanding the usual noble sim-
plicity of his style, for which he has been so justly
celebrated, he did not entirely abandon the strange
proportions, which pedantry, and an affectation of
mystical science, had introduced; for he employs*
them all m his Mass, upon the melody of Pkamme
armiy which abounds in vain and unmeaning diffi-

He likewise, for some time, adhered to the ab-
surd and almost impious practice of composing
Masses upon vulgar tones, as appears by the tides,
as well as the subjects, of those in his second and
third books. However, he discontinued this Gothic
custom after the year 1570, when, probably, a bet*
ter taste became general.

It is hoped no apology will be necessary for the
pages, that have been devoted to the professional
history of Palestrvna, In the annals of ancient
poetry, Homer would doubtless occupy the most
ample and honourable station ; and Pakstrina r un-
questionably the Homer of die moat ancient mmic
that has been preserved, as justly merits all ihe

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reverence w£ attention, which it is in a musical
biographer's power lo bertew*

I am, 8cc.


April 2,7th, 1813.


Luca Marenzio.

Palestrina, as we have already observed, carried
the grave and ecclesiastic style of music to a degree
of perfection unknown to his predecessors — and,
perhaps in £oint of propriety and essential grandeur,
never since exceeded.

Secular music also began now to be cultivated
with almost equal success. Masters of the first
class now directed their talents to the production erf
Madrigals; a style of composition that attained
its highest degree of perfection towards? the latter
end of die sixteenth eentory, by means of the supe*
rior geainff of LuttA Marsnzio.

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This ingenious, elegant, and id his line, unrival-
led composer, was born at Coccaglia, in the diocese
of Brescia. His natural inclination leading him
very early to the composition of madrigals, like his
contemporary Palestrina, he obtained an acknow-
ledged superiority over all his predecessors : and the
number also of his publications is prodigious.* In
the madrigal style .he was called by his countrymen,
" II piu dolce Cigno:" and Sebastian Raval, the
Spaniard, who was editor of some of his works,
styles him a divine composer. He was sometime
Maestro di Capella to Cardinal Luigi d'Este ; and,
according to Adami and others, caressed and patron-
ized by many princes and eminent personages, par-

* At Venice, between the years 1587 and 1601, were
printed nine books of his Madrigals for five Voices : the
two last were posthumous. Besides these, he composed
six books of Madrigals in six parts : Madrigals for three
voices ; another set for five ; and another for six voices,
different from all the former. Canzonets for the Lute ;
Motetti a 4 ; and Sacras Cantiones, 5, 6, ac 7, Vocibus
Modulandas. All these works were first printed at Ve-
nice, and afterwards at Antwerp, and many of them in
London to English words. See Musica Transalpina, two
Books ; and a Collection of Italian Madrigals, with Eng-
lish Words, published in 1689, by Thomas Watson,

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ticularly by the King of Poland, and Cardinal Cin-
thio Aldobrandini, nephew to Pope Clement the

Upon his return to Rome, after quitting Poland,
he was admitted into the Pope's chapel ; and dying
in that city, in 1599, he was buried in the church of
St. Lorenzo, in Lucina.

Our countryman, Peacham,* speaks of his " deli*
" cious aire, and sweet invention in madrigals ;" and
says, " that he excelled all other whatsoever, having
" published more sets than any author else ; and
" hath not an ill song" Adding that " his first,
" second, and third parts of Thyrsis, Veggo dolce il
mio ben, &c. are " songs, the Muses themselves might
not have been ashamed to have composed." To
this we may readily subscribe, and will not dispute
his stature, or the colour of his hair, when he fur-
ther tells us, " that he was a little black man :" but
when he asserts that "he was organist of the Pope's
chapel at Rome a good while, where there never was
an organ, we can no longer credit his report ; nor is
it likely, however great the musical merit of this little

Online LibraryA[llatson] BurghAnecdotes of music, historical and biographical; → online text (page 1 of 28)