It may confuse you to learn that Palestrina is not a person, but a place. The composer was actually named Giovanni Pierluigi.
Giovanni was born around 1525 in the tiny village of Palestrina, outside Rome, in the country of… Italy Rome
Gianetto (as he was then called) was a happy, playful child who sang in the local choir. At age 12, he went to Rome to a choir school where he learned to compose.
At the age of 20, he got a job as an organist back in his home town of Palestrina and he married a girl named Lucrezia, whose father had just died and left her some money.
Not long after Giovanni got married, the bishop of Palestrina became the new Pope. The new Pope needed a choir director for St. Peter’s choir in Rome, and he knew Giovanni because they were from the same little town, so he appointed him the director.
It seems that church composers of this time had been using melodies of “secular” songs in church music. Also, the music was loud and nobody could understand the words. The church leaders were unhappy with this and they wanted to abolish both homophonic and polyphonic music and go back to the Gregorian Chant of 1000 years earlier.
Giovanni convinced the church leaders that polyphonic music could be very respectable. His church music wasn’t too loud and the words were easily understood.
All seemed to be going well for Giovanni. He married a girl with lots of money, he got a job as director of the Pope’s very own choir, and he single-handedly convinced church leaders not to go back to Gregorian Chant. The Vatican in Rome – where the pope lives
Unfortunately, the tide was about to turn for Giovanni. The dreaded sheep flu killed his wife and 2 of his 3 sons.
Needless to say, Giovanni was very upset at losing his family. He considered giving up composing music and becoming a priest. He got as far as shaving his head to become a priest, but then he decided against it.
Instead, he changed his name to his home town of… Palestrina
Things started looking up for Palestrina. He met and married a rich widow named Virginia Dormuli. Virginia owned a fur and leather business and four houses which she rented out to tenants.
During the mornings, Palestrina would mind the fur store and take care of any tenant problems. During the afternoons, he composed. Although he was busy, he still somehow managed to compose about 100 masses and over 600 other pieces.
Palestrina died in 1594 in Rome, Italy. He was buried in St. Stephen’s cemetary, but his grave has been misplaced over the years.
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