Giovanni Palestrina (3 February 1525 or 2 February 1526 – 2 February 1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina, which is near Rome, then part of the Papal States. Documents suggest that he first visited Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a chorister at the Sta Maria Maggiore basilica. He studied with Robin Mallapert and Firmin Lebel. He spent most of his career in the city.
Arguably Palestrina’s best-known work, this mass owes its formidable reputation to an oft-repeated legend, according to which Catholic authorities, overwhelmed by the spiritual beauty and dignity of this piece, reversed a proposed ban on the use of music during religious services. Without the Missa Papae Marcelli, the legend continues, sacred music would have ceased to exist after the sixteenth century. The true story is somewhat less dramatic. While a total ban on church music was never seriously considered, Catholic authorities were indeed concerned with the growing secularization and excessive complexity of liturgical music. In 1555, Pope Marcellus II (after whom the mass is named) addressed the Papal choir, urging musicians to strive for simplicity, clarity, and intelligibility in their compositions. Marcellus’ recommendations became official policy with the pronouncements of the Council of Trent concerning music, in 1562 and 1563.