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Queen's University Library

Palestrina and His World

Library Exhibit, 6 September 2002 - 13 October 2002

[Palestrins book cover]

An exhibition held in honour of the publication of

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: A Guide to Research

Written and compiled by Dr. Clara Marvin
Assistant Professor, School of Music, Queen's University

(Published: New York; London : Routledge, 2002)

Dr. Marvin's comprehensive guide is issued in the scholarly Routledge Musical Bibliographies series. The range of resources documented includes: primary sources (printed and manuscript), the modern complete editions, anthologies, secondary literature, and a discography which covers 78 rpm, LP and CD formats. With the index, introduction and a chronology of Palestrina's life, the publication amounts to almost 500 pages, compiled with an incredible attention to detail which librarians and fellow bibliographers will surely appreciate.

The exhibition consists of two main sections: Palestrina and his Music and The World of Palestrina - The 16th Century Italian Context.

Palestrina and His Music

A selection of scores, recordings, biographical and critical works

"It has been justly said that the reputation of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) is unlike that of any other musician. He is the oldest composer who has been present continuously in the consciousness of the Western art tradition since his death over four centuries ago. For many historians writing from the seventeenth century to well into the early twentieth, Palestrina was the pivotal figure in the progressive development of music. Musical historiography was rich with metaphorical language emphasizing the composer's role both as an originator of 'true' polyphony and as a foundation for the organic development of the art of his professional successors." (Preface)

[Palestrina score]

A page from the offertory Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos

[Title page of Palestrina works]

Title-page of the first published collection of Palestrina's works (Rome, 1554), showing the composer presenting the music to Pope Julius III

Palestrina's prodigious list of compositions (as listed in the New Grove Dictionary 2001) consists of 104 masses (including the Missa Papae Marcelli 1565?), 300 motets, 68 offertories, at least 72 hymns, 35 Magnificat settings, 11 litanies and several sets of lamentations. He was also an important madrigalist, having composed more than 140!

The World of Palestrina: The 16th Century Italian Context

Publications reflecting the Catholic Church, the politics, humanist philosophy, literature, science, medicine, art and architecture of this exciting Renaissance era.

A few of the churches in and near Rome that Palestrina was associated with are highlighted in the exhibition: San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, the Julian Chapel and the Sistine Chapel (St. Peter's Basilica).

[Disputa del Sacramento by Raphael]

Disputa del Sacramento (1509)

The exhibition includes a selection of items from Special Collections portraying the culture of the period. Included are works by Machiavelli, Vesalius, Pamphilus, di Medici, Palladio, Kircher, and Erasmus in 16th century editions along with illustrations of the sacred art of Raphael, and Michelangelo. A few plates from the Sistine Chapel masterpieces are taken from Ernst Steinmann's comprehensive work (Munich, 1901-1905). The painting by Raphael displayed here, Disputa del Sacramento(1509), is also part of the Vatican collections.

Among the treasures on display are: a beautiful velvet bound Book of Hours (1511), an embossed leather Bible with metal clasps (1491) and a colourful facsimile reproduction of the early 15th century illuminated music manuscript The Squarcialupi Codex.

Also featured in the display is a report by Debra Cuoco who, in 2001, studied the early Venetian bindings in the Jordan Library's rare book collection as part of her Master of Art Conservation degree. Several vellum bound books have been included as examples of the book arts already flourishing in the 16th century.

[image of Palestrina]

"Nothing…is so congenial to me, as to be able to give myself to that study of music…when I can abide by my purpose of embracing topics which most fully show forth God's praise, and which, pondered in all their weightiness and dignity of word and idea, and embellished with some amount of musical art, may well move the heart of man to devotion." (Palestrina, as quoted by Marvin, p. 10)


This exhibition was curated by Vivien Taylor and Lucinda Walls, with the support of Pamela Manders and Pat Hitchcock.

Last Updated: 04 September 2014

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