We are going to span quite the time frame today – from the late Renaissance to the 20th century. We’ll start with Palestrina.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born in 1525 in a small town near Rome, Italy, named Palestrina. He was trained musically from a young age, first at a Roman basilica where he was a choirboy. He evidently learned and grew talented quickly because by the age of 19, he was appointed organist of the cathedral back in the town of his birth – Palestrina. He played the organ and taught the choirboys. He did well there and was noticed by the Bishop, Cardinal del Monte. He married in 1547 and three children were added to the family over the years.
In 1550, the Bishop from Palestrina was named the new Pope, Pope Julius III. He brought Palestrina to Rome with him to become the maestro of the Cappella Guilia. This was one of the two most recognized musical establishments of St. Peter’s. Within a few years, the first of Palestrina’s compositions began appearing and he seldom slowed in his writing from that time forward. The first publication appears to have been a collection of masses.
After the death of Pope Julius III, Palestrina had to leave his position under the new Pope because he was married. He held a few different positions in churches over the next few years. He even spent some time at Santa Maria Maggiore, the place where he received his own early musical training. He was able to return to Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s in 1571 and remained there until his death in 1594.
Palestrina is considered one of the greatest church composers and one of the most important composers from the late Renaissance. He wrote much in the elaborate style of polyphonic masses. He married the music and the words well, showing that classical counterpoint and clarity of text setting could marry well. Through this demonstration, many believe that he saved music, since the councils of the Roman Catholic church were trying to do away with much of the music. This, at least, is how the story is told. 🙂
Palestrina wrote a tremendous body of work. He wrote 104 complete masses. He composed 374 motets. He added to those a number of offertories and hymns, sets of Lamentations, and 35 settings of the Magnificat. At least 140 secular songs and spiritual madrigals have survived, as well. Palestrina was buried in a coffin that bore the inscription “Prince of music.” Perhaps that is quite fitting.
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Ukraine, in 1891. His mother was an amateur pianist and taught him from infancy. By age 5, he was composing. By age 10, he had composed his first opera. He gained musical training as a piano student at St. Petersburg Conservatory, graduating in 1914. Much like Liszt, Prokofiev had quite a talent for performance and skill that was almost unmatched. He spent 15 years touring as a performer outside of Russia, including through WWI.
Prokofiev fled Russia during the Russian Revolution. His music fit the times – harsh, clashing, difficult. His initial compositions are quite challenging to listen to, marked by polytonality (two or more tonal centers) and chromaticism. Many of the modern composers of the times were quite taken by this and it earned him a reputation among them. From about 1913 to 1932, Prokofiev was outside of Russia. He toured the United States and other countries. He performed with many groups. He was commissioned to write many pieces. These pieces, commissioned and not, include the opera Love for Three Oranges and Chout. He recorded his ever popular Piano Concerto No 3 with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1932.
Prokofiev never really felt comfortable outside of Russia, which had become the Soviet Union under Stalin. He began rebuilding his bridges there with writing the opera Romeo and Juliet for the Kirov Theater, among other works. He was welcomed back in 1936 and his first piece there was the ever popular Peter and the Wolf. Back in the Scoiet Union, his work took on more of the nationalist expectations required, though the works remained truly Prokofiev’s. He was required to write patriotic stage works and piece popular with “the people.” During this time, he also composed War and Peace and the score for Alexandre Nevsky.
After WWII, he continued to write, though his works changed character a bit. He wrote more darkly, more artistically. These pieces included Cinderella and Piano Symphony No 6. He was censured by the state under Stalin for this and many of his works ended up being banned. However, he continued to create “art for art’s sake” rather than follow the Stalinistic doctrine and the Socialist Realism expected. This created hardship for the composer. He died in 1953, on the same day as Stalin.
Lori, At Home.
Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B – Bernstein, Bizet, Bax
C – Copland
D – Debussy and de Meij
E – Elgar
F – Fauré
G – Grainger and Ginastera
H – Holst
I – Ives
J – Joplin and Janacek
K – Kern
L – Liszt
M – Mussorgsky
N – Nelson
O – Offenbach
Thank you for joining me this week for Composer ABCs. Please visit the hosts to find the linky and other participants.
Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook – This week is P is for Park.
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses – This week is P is for Podcasts.