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Biography of

Jacobus Gallus

1550 (Reifnitz) - 18 jul 1591 (Prague)
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Jacobus Gallus, a portrait from 1590

Jacobus Gallus Carniolus (a.k.a. Jacob(us) Handl, Jacob(us) Händl, Jacob(us) Gallus; Slovenian Jakob Petelin Kranjski) (July 3, 1550 – July 18, 1591) was a late Renaissance composer of Slovenian origin.[1] Born in Carniola, which was part of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire at the time, he lived and worked in Moravia and Bohemia during the last decade of his life.



Gallus may have been named Jakob Petelin at birth.[2] Petelin means "rooster"; Handl and Gallus mean the same in German and Latin, respectively.[3] He was born in Reifnitz, (now Ribnica, Slovenia). He used the Latin form of his name, to which he often added the adjective Carniolus, thus giving credit to his homeland Carniola.

Gallus most likely was educated at the Cistercian monastery at Stična in Carniola. He left Slovenia sometime between 1564 and 1566, traveling first to Austria, and later to Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. For some time he lived at the Benedictine Melk Abbey in Lower Austria. He was a member of the Viennese court chapel in 1574, and was choirmaster (Kapellmeister) to the bishop of Olmütz, Moravia between 1579 (or 1580) and 1585. From 1585 to his death he worked in Prague as organist to the Church of St. John on the Balustrade (Cz. Sv. Jan na Zábradlí). Gallus died on July 18, 1591 in Prague.[1]


Gallus represented the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia, mixing the polyphonic style of the High Renaissance Franco-Flemish School with the style of the Venetian School. His output was both sacred and secular, and hugely prolific: over 500 works have been attributed to him. Some are for large forces, with multiple choirs of up to 24 independent parts.[1][4]

His most notable work is the six part Opus musicum, 1577, a collection of 374 motets that would eventually cover the liturgical needs of the entire ecclesiastical year. The motets were printed in Prague printing house Jiří Nigrin, which also published 16 of his 20 extant masses. The motet O magnum mysterium comes from the first volume (printed in 1586) which covers the period from the first Sunday of Advent to the Septuagesima. This motet for 8 voices shows evidence of influence by the Venetian polychoral style, with its use of the coro spezzato technique.

His wide-ranging, eclectic style blended archaism and modernity. He rarely used the cantus firmus technique, preferring the then-new Venetian polychoral manner, yet he was equally conversant with earlier imitative techniques. Some of his chromatic transitions foreshadowed the breakup of modality; his five-voice motet Mirabile mysterium contains chromaticism worthy of Carlo Gesualdo. He enjoyed word painting in the style of the madrigal, yet he could write the simple Ecce quomodo moritur justus later used by George Frideric Handel in his funeral anthem The Ways of Zion Do Mourn.

His secular output, about 100 short pieces, was published in the collections Harmoniae morales (Prague 1589 and 1590) and Moralia (Nuremberg 1596). Some of these works were madrigals in Latin, an unusual language for the form (most madrigals were in Italian); others were songs in German, and others were compositions in Latin.[1]


An image of Gallus appeared on the Slovenian 200 tolar bill, along with an image of the Slovenian Philharmonic and a short excerpt from one of his mass settings.



  1. ^ a b c d Skei/Pokorn, Grove online
  2. ^ Reese, p. 736
  3. ^ Skei/Pokorn: Grove online
  4. ^ Reese, p. 736-738

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jacobus Gallus. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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