Don Lorenzo Perosi

(01 January 1872 — 01 January 1956)

Lorenzo Perosi was born in Tortona in 1872 to an affluent family with a long musical tradition, and known for their conservative brand of Roman Catholicism. He began studying music with his father – piano, organ and violin. On an 1888 pilgrimage to Rome, Perosi gave Pope Leo XIII an album of his compositions. From 1888 to 1890 he studied composition by correspondence with Michele Saladino, a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Milano.

Perosi began teaching music theory at the Abbey of Montecassino. In 1892 he was admitted to the Royal Conservatory in Milano, where he resumed his studies under Saladino. This was a fruitful period for Perosi in terms of production, during which time he completed two masses and numerous pieces of sacred vocal music, as well as compositions for various genres and ensembles.

In 1894 he was named Chapel Master at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In the years he spent in Venice, Perosi churned out an important corpus of masses, including Messa Davidica for three voices (1894), Missa in honorem beati Ambrosii for two voices (1894-97), Messa marciana for four voices (1894-97), and Missa eucharistica for four voices (1896). During this time, he also composed a series of seven Latin oratorios. Many of his pieces enjoyed extraordinary success in Italy and abroad.

Perosi was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1895.

In 1898 Pope Leo XIII appointed Perosi Perpetual Director of the Sistine Choir. On April 8, 1903 he conducted the premiere performance of his new symphonic vocal poem, Il Giudizio universale, at Teatro Costanzi in Rome. The piece was dedicated to the Italian pianist, composer and conductor Giuseppe Martucci.

In 1907, while working on a new oratorio, Transitus animae, Perosi began suffering from bouts of mental illness, which worsened following the death of the composer’s father. By 1918 he was no longer able to fulfill his duties as Director of the Sistine Choir. However, his health later rebounded and in 1923 he was elected as Papal Chamberlain.

The last two decades of Perosi’s activity saw numerous performances of his works by the Sistine Choir at religious functions and celebrations. He was also kept busy with ongoing concert engagements.

Perosi’s production synthesizes the Gregorian and modal revisitations of early polyphony, Bachian counterpoint and late-Romantic mannerism. His oratorios are tied to a broader concept of sacred music as a people’s art and a religious focus, which drove the innovation of 20th-century Italian music.

In 1954 Perosi began experiencing vascular ailments, and the following year suffered a heart attack. He died on the afternoon of October 12, 1956, at The Palace of the Holy Office in Rome.