Palestrina: Missae Papae Marcelli

You can't have a Renaissance concert without Palestrina, right? The Tallis Scholars will perform an excerpt from one of Palestrina's most recognizable works: the Missae Papae Marcelli


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594) ranks as one of the towering figures in the music of the late 16th century. He was primarily a prolific composer of masses and motets but was also an important madrigalist. Among the native Italian musicians of the 16th century who sought to assimilate the richly developed polyphonic techniques of their French and Flemish predecessors, none mastered these techniques more completely

The scope of Palestrina’s work is enormous even by the standards of such prodigious contemporaries as Lassus and Monte, and it is centrally devoted to sacred music. His output of 104 securely attributed masses is greater in quantity alone than that of any composer of his age. To this fundamental domain of sacred music can be added more than 300 motets, 68 offertories, at least 72 hymns, 35 Magnificat settings, 11 litanies and four or five sets of Lamentations. But he also composed more than 140 madrigals (including some very famous pieces) if his spiritual madrigals are counted alongside his settings of secular poetry. Although he was the first 16th-century composer whose works were produced in a complete edition as early as the 19th century and for whom a second one has been achieved in the 20th, a number of works attributed to him in manuscript sources remain of doubtful authenticity, and a comprehensive catalogue of Palestrina sources remains to be achieved.


The Missa Papae Marcelli, composed c.1561, is dedicated to Pope Marcellus II, who established the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent, a gathering of the Catholic world which took place in the middle of the sixteenth century, was convened to discuss responses to the movement of Protestant reform sweeping across the continent. Many delegates felt that secular music was an inappropriate model, and that words had become unintelligible. Legend has it that the Missa Papae Marcelli was written to prove that polyphony could fulfil these requirements. The Agnus Dei is classic Palestrina, a seamless and smooth polyphony. Romantic legend has it that, because of the clarity with which Palestrina treated the text, with this mass he ‘saved church music’

  • DID YOU KNOW... Luminous Voices performed the Missa Papae Marcelli at its first A Luminous New Year's Eve concert in December 2015. 
  • VIDEO: The Tallis Scholars perform Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. The 'Agnus Dei', which is featured on the tour programme, begins at 28:35.