This week we are going to look at a piece by probably the best known of Italian composers during the Renaissance period: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
Palestrina was musically raised in the Catholic church. He started as a chorister and, by means of teachers and the right people hearing his music, he music director of Julien Chapel by Pope Julius III. He was a composer until his death and is widely considered the greatest writer of polyphany during his times.
This piece is just one of many examples of his writing. It is polyphonic (meaning there are multiples voices that move independently of one another). Palestrina followed rules for his music, including the following:
- The flow of music is dynamic, not rigid or static.
- Melody should contain few leaps between notes.
- If a leap occurs, it must be small and immediately countered by stepwise motion in the opposite direction.
- Dissonances are to be confined to passing notes and weak beats. If one falls on a strong beat, it is to be immediately resolved.
It is also one of the typical movements of a Latin mass. In this case, the lyrics are short and simple: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” It is one the most prolific examples of polyphany, known for it’s simple beauty and worshipful expression.