Using excerpts from Palestrina's 'Kyrie' and Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus', students explore the concepts of timbre and polyphony.
Music Start-up Kit CD 1 and CD player with timer; cassette tape and tape recorder; transparency or copies of w -14
- Giovanni da Palestrina / George Frederic Handel
- Italian / German & English
- Birth - Death
- 1525 - 1594 / 1685 - 1759
- Excerpt kyrie from Pope Marcellus Mass / 'Hallelujah Chorus'
- Renaissance Baroque
Giovanni da Palestrina was the most prolific and consistent
composer of the sixteenth century. His use of polyphony remains
the standard by which other composers are judged. The Pope
Marcellus Mass is believed to have had a direct influence on the
Church's policy regarding types of music acceptable for use in
Catholic services. This composition, which is surrounded by legend
(see Palestrina's biography in Section V), is a wonderful use of
imitative polyphony, where one voice follows what the other has
- After enjoying great success early in his career, George
Frederic Handel's fortunes took a turn for the worse when his
London Opera House went bankrupt. He was thrown into debtor's
prison, and while there suffered a stroke. Upon his release,
Handel needed money to regain his health and his reputation, so he
began to write religious oratorios, hoping to capitalize on the
Church of England's tremendous influence. Handel's career was
revived as a result of this decision and the beautiful music of
Messiah came out of this bleak time in his life. The piece may
have been composed for money, but Handel did say that while
writing it he had a vision of 'the great God himself upon his
throne, and all his company of angels.' The 'Hallelujah Chorus' is
one of the most well-known pieces of choral music ever written.
Its power lies in its grand simplicity, but an 1857 performance of
the work was anything but simple; it was sung by a choir of 2,000,
backed up by an orchestra of 400 and a 204 ton, four-person organ.
People more than half a mile away could hear Handel's masterpiece.
- commission - a payment given to a musician or artist to
create a work for a certain purpose.
- beat - the basic pulse underlying a piece of
- stretto - A musical technique in which one instrument
or group of instruments, the first 'voice, 'plays the melody line,
and before the first voice has finished, a second voice
- rest - an interval of silence in music.
Intended Learning Outcomes
Students will explore the concepts of timbre and polyphony.
- A portrait of Handel
This resource file contains an artist's depiction of George Frideric Handel to help students create a visual image of this great musician as they listen to some of his works.
- A portrait of Palestrina
This resource file contains an artist's depiction of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina to help students create a visual image of this great musician as they listen to some of his works.
- CMA Table of Contents
This file contains a complete overview of KUER's Classical Music Appreciation curriculum, which includes: grade level lessons, featured composers, instrument descriptions, a music history timeline along with many other related worksheets and visual aids.
- Hallelujah Chorus Excerpt
Students use this resource file (worksheet 14) to help them identify the different voices that help to make up the Hallelujah Chorus in this lesson on timbre and polyphony
- Introducing Handel
This biographical sketch of a "baroque era" organist and violinist introduces young students to the life and works of Germany/England's George Frideric Handel.
- Introducing Palestrina
This biographical sketch of a "renaissance era" organist, choirmaster, and composer introduces young students to the life and works of Italy's Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
See CMA Table of Contents
See composers' profiles and pictures:
- Listen to the kyrie (KEER-ee-ay) from Palestrina's Pope
Marceliris Mass (selection 2) as an example of this musical style.
Palestrina was a master of this technique, called polyphony, and
the beauty of his compositions helped polyphonic music gain the
acceptance of church authorities for its use in religious
- Point out to the students how easy it is to tell that there is
more than one set of voices singing this work. Why is that? It
might be because of the staggered timing of their singing of the
melody, but the most basic reason is because the different voices
have different timbres. To help the students understand the
concept of timbre, play the cassette tape you've prepared for
them. Have them try to identify the speakers on the tape. For the
voices with which they are not familiar let the students make
guesses about the speaker's gender, age, and anything else they
can come up with Now ask them how they recognize the voices. What
qualities of the voices make them identifiable? The pitch
(highness or lowness), nasality, scratchiness, or resonance are
all qualities that determine the timbre of a given voice, the
things that make it different from any other The term can also be
used to describe the different qualities of sound that are created
by different instruments playing the same note.
- Now talk a bit about how the different parts in a chorus take
advantage of differences in timbre to create a rich blend of
sound. Sopranos are the highest female voice, altos the lower
female voices, tenors the higher male voice, and basses have the
lowest voices. Display W -14 on the overhead projector or pass out
copies to the students. It is a portion of the score for Handel's
'Hallelujah Chorus.' Point out how each line of music corresponds
to a different voice in the piece. Listen to a portion of Handel's
'Hallelujah Chorus' (selection 11, 1:03 - 2:36). Can the students
identify the different voices? The part of the piece shown on W
-14 is heard from 1:33 to 1:57 on the CD. Help them follow the
score as each part joins in or drops out. Divide the class into
four groups--soprano, alto, tenor, and bass--and have them raise
their hands when they hear their part singing as they listen to
the two pieces again, in their entirety.
- the influence of religion music, art, and culture topics
- instrument sounds
Listen to some 'chant' music to get an idea of how sacred music
sounded before polyphony became popular
Read the book Cathedral with the students, and talk about how
important religion must have been in early European society.
Explore the role of religion in early classical music and art
during the Renaissance.
Try some polyphonic poetry by doing the activities Joyful Noise
Macauley David. Cathedral. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Cole, Alison. The Renaissance. London: Dorling Kindersley
Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. New
York: Harper & Row. 1988.
G.E Handel. The Messiah: An Oratorio. New York: G.
Schirmer, Inc., 1912.
Easter Chants; The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos;
Milan 73138 35745-2
Handel: Messiah Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus I Robert
Shaw Telarc 80093-2
Palestrina: Pope Marcellus Mass Oxford Camerata / Jeremy Summerly