Pfitzner’s Palestrina: The ‘Musical Legend’ and its Background
Hans Pfitzner’s ‘musical legend’ Palestrina is considered in the German-speaking countries to be one of the supreme masterpieces of music, and yet it is all but unknown elsewhere.
The opera, first performed in 1917, tells the story of the composer Palestrina, his struggle to compose following the death of his wife and in the face of anti-musical decrees from the Church, and his eventual composition of the Missa Papae Marcelli, which, it is said, was dictated to him by angels and reconciled the Church to contrapuntal music. The story, set against the historical background of the Council of Trent, is an allegory of the individual artist in society, as well as a statement of Pfitzner’s own beliefs about the musical climate of his time. The music is of profound nobility, constructed with enormous subtlety and skill.
In this book, the first to be written in English on Pfitzner’s masterpiece, Owen Toller discusses the music and the dramatic structure in detail, and presents a comprehensive introduction to the background material in the many diverse fields encompassed by the opera.
A substantial biographical chapter describes the circumstances in which Palestrina was written and first performed; it also provides a guide to the remainder of Pfitzner’s diverse and important output and to the hallmarks of his individual style.