Cantor of Seville by Ken Myers

From Heavenly Harmony

Cantor of Seville

by Ken Myers

If there were a competition for such a thing, the award for Best-Known Choral Composer of the Renaissance would probably go to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594). For a host of good reasons, Palestrina is the closest thing we have to a sixteenth-century musical celebrity. His contemporary Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548–1611) would probably come away with the silver medal in such a contest.

They were both towering talents and deserve the honors accorded them. But their stature has unfortunately tended to obscure the remarkable (and sometimes superior) work of many of their contemporaries and predecessors. In 1828, priest and composer Giuseppe Baini wrote a biography of Palestrina that launched a movement of hero worship that is still active: a 2009 film, Palestrina—Prince of Music, echoes the legend that Palestrina single-handedly rescued musical beauty from the repressive hands of the Council of Trent. A 2011 BBC program about Victoria's music—admirably sung by The Sixteen—was called God's Composer. Palestrina may have been a prince; Victoria should be understood as a prophet and priest.

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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