My Favorites: Tu Es Petrus, Missa Papae Marcelli (especially the Kyrie & Gloria)

My Thoughts: It must be hard to write music for the Mass.  The text is set rather rigidly, and the emotional tone of most of the parts is well-established with little wiggle-room.  Oh, and people are rather attached to the whole idea of the Mass.  Such is the case now, just as it was for Palestrina, when he revolutionized sacred music way back in the sixteenth century.  His masses are remarkable: each is unique and distinctive, yet obviously sacred music.  As the first composer I listened to in my quest, I have to say he set the bar very high.  Think back on all the choral music you've ever heard (sacred and secular, really); Palestrina is the mark at which almost all of those pieces aim.  Few hit.  Palestrina's big innovation was polyphony, or multiple choral parts ("voices") singing at the same time.  We tend to take that for granted in choral music these days, but it wasn't always so.  And Palestrina's music features this in a big way.  At once powerful and stirring, his works also fade to the contemplative and nuanced.  Listening to Palestrina is like looking at a finely-woven tapestry, or reading a really good mystery novel.  In the Kyrie from the Missa Papae Marcelli, for example, each voice starts off doing its own thing, weaving and twining around and among the others, unique yet complementary to the whole, and then, somehow, everything comes together in the end, unifying and building to a beautiful climax.  Palestrina's music is sublime, in the fullest sense of the word.  If you aren't moved by this stuff, then you have a big, gaping hole where your soul should be.
My Favorites: Dixit Dominus (from Vespro della beata Virgine), the madrigal version of Lamento d'Arianna (especially Lasciatemi Morire)

My Thoughts: In addition to the sacred music and secular madrigals for which he is known, Claudio Monteverdi is also famous for his musical contributions as one of the pioneer composers of opera.  Therefore, before we get to my thoughts about Monteverdi in particular, there's something I need to say about opera in general.

OPERA DISCLAIMER:  I'm pretty ambivalent when it comes to opera.  Some of it I quite like (Rossini's The Barber of Seville, for example), but much of it isn't my favorite thing to listen to.  A lot of this is purely personal predilection and nothing more; it's similar to the fact that I'm not crazy about asparagus (I'll eat it if it's there, but I won't go out of my way to find it or avoid it, unlike,say, broccoli...vile weed!  But I digress...).  In addition, my listening format really didn't do justice to opera.  Opera is musical theater; it is meant to be seen as well as heard.  However, since my workplace would likely frown on my watching opera at my desk, listening was all I had.  So, while I acknowledge the importance of opera in the classical music tradition, I won't always have glowing things to say about it.  This says much more about me than it does about opera, so take my thoughts with considerable seasoning.

Monteverdi's music is what I expected (late) renaissance to sound like.  It's very lyrical, heavily vocal, with relatively sparse (albeit effective) instrumental accompaniment.  His sacred music is stirring and impressive; not as timeless as Palestrina, but very nice nonetheless.  His secular madrigals are nice as well, especially when there are multiple voices.  The harmonies in Lasciatemi Morire, for example, are very moving.  All in all, a nice bit of music to listen to, clearly coming from the late sixteenth century.

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