Chapter 25
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Chapter 25



The renaissance comes to rome

  • During the fifteenth century the papacy reversed the death spiral into which the city of Rome had plunged. The pope returned to Rome and began to resurrect and rebuild the antiquities of the ancient. Pope Sixtus IV built the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican between 1477 and 1481. Later popes (Julius II, Leo X, and Paul III) began to erect a new St. Peter’s Basilica, which took more than a century to complete.

A joust in progress inside the gardens of the papal apartments at the vatican
A joust in progress inside the gardens of the papal apartments at the Vatican

The Sistine Chapel is at the top. Workers constructing the new St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen in the background at the upper right.

The counter reformation
THE COUNTER-REFORMATION apartments at the Vatican

  • The established Roman Catholic Church was shaken to its very foundation by the Protestant Reformation. In response, it began to reform itself, curtailing the sale of church offices and indulgences. Nudity in religious art, musical instruments within the church, secular tunes in the middle of polyphonic Masses, and married church singers were now deemed inappropriate to a truly pious environment. The movement of spiritual and administrative reform by the Catholic Church is called the Counter-Reformation. Its spirit was institutionalized in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), a congress of reforming bishops and cardinals held at Trento, Italy. The Council of Trent prescribed a more restrained style of religious music, one in which the sacred text was clearly audible.

Giovanni pierluigi da palestrina

  • No music better represents the spirit of the Counter-Reformation than that of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526/1526-1594). Palestrina sought to effect in music the dictates—careful, restrained part-writing and clear declamation--of the Council of Trent, most notably in his Mass for Pope Marcellus (1567).

The interior of the sistine chapel
The interior of the Sistine Chapel apartments at the Vatican

The high altar and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment are at the far end; the balcony for the singers, which at various times included Josquin des Prez and Palestrina, is at the lower right, just on the other side of the choir screen.

Palestrina s style
PALESTRINA’S STYLE apartments at the Vatican

  • For part of his career Palestrina was employed in the pope’s private chapel, called the Sistine Chapel. Here no instruments, not even an organ, were used to accompany religious singing. Thus the style of unaccompanied vocal music came be called “a cappella Sistina” (in the style of the Sistine Chapel) and eventually simply a cappella. Palestrina’s music is invariably performed a cappella. Palestrina usually assigns each phrase of text its own musical motive, which is given, in turn, to each voice. A motive used in this fashion is called a point of imitation.

Here Palestrina concludes a section based on one point of imitation and begins another point with the text “Pleni sunt coeli.”

The vatican and st peter s basilica
THE VATICAN AND ST. PETER’S BASILICA imitation and begins another point with the text “Pleni sunt coeli.”

  • The Vatican, the compound in which the pope resides today, derives its name from the old Roman name of the hill (mons Vaticanus) on which it sits. The largest church in the Vatican, indeed anywhere in the world, is St. Peter’s Basilica (a basilica is an especially important church that happens not to be a cathedral). The present St. Peter’s Basilica was built during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It honors and protects the relics of St. Peter, the founder of the Catholic Church in Rome. The Gospel declaration (Matthew 16:18-19) “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam mean” (“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”) was played out at the Vatican in art, architecture, and music.

The high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and, above it, the Latin inscription beginning Tu es Petrus (You are Peter). The same theme was incorporated in a Mass and three motets by Palestrina.

Parody technique
PARODY TECHNIQUE Latin inscription beginning

  • Composers of the sixteenth century including Palestrina often looked for a musical model to serve as a point of departure for a new composition. Borrowing not merely a pre-existing melody from another work, but a polyphonic complex of several measures is called parody technique. Here the composer who borrows is simply doing honor to, or emulating, the work of a previous master. In his Missa Tu es Petrus (c1585) Palestrina builds upon his own six-voice motet Tu es Petrus. In this case, Palestrina is simply emulating himself.

The beginning of Palestrina’s six-voice motet Latin inscription beginning Tu es Petrus and the Kyrie of the parody Mass that he based upon it, his Missa Tu es Petrus.

Spanish music during the counter reformation

  • The country besides Italy that experienced the Counter-Reformation most intensely was Spain. Many important Spanish composers of the sixteenth century worked in Rome for part of their careers: Cristóbal de Morales (c1500-1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), and Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). Victoria is the Spanish Counter-Reformation composer par excellence. His dark, austere, somewhat mysterious sound provides a musical equivalent to the paintings of his exact contemporary, El Greco (1541-1614). Like El Greco, who painted almost no secular subjects, Victoria wrote no secular music.

El greco s christ clasping the cross 1600 1605
El Greco’s “Christ Clasping the Cross” (1600-1605) Latin inscription beginning

The austere, mystical style of El Greco embodies

the spirit of the Counter-Reformation.