If without straining a similitude we can compare poets and musicians, it may be said that Palestrina's poetical counterpart is Dante. There is in him something of the same sublimity, the same flawless perfection of workmanship, the same power of expressing the highest thoughts in the simplest language. This is the very music of which Plato dreamed :
the innermost voice of purity and goodness, as transparent as clear water, yet wrought with a mastery of subtle device which is the more notable for being concealed. It may be said that this perfect balance and texture are gained at some expense of adventur-ousness : that Palestrina paints with fewer colours than the English and encounters fewer problems : if this be true it only characterises, and does not depreciate, the master who with a more restricted palette can make us behold the radiance of the angelic choir.
Among the Italians Palestrina stands alone, but apart from him were many artists of high distinction and achievement: Vittoria, who, though Spanish by birth, was Italian by upbringing and residence, Croce the Venetian organist, Anerio the Church composer, Maren-zio the madrigal writer, and, most familiar to us, Antonio Ferrabosco, who spent most of his time in England where he was a great favourite with the Court, and where he challenged Mr. William Byrd to a famous contest in variation-writing.
We were indeed ready to accept his challenge or that of any other foreign musician. The belief that England is inherently an unmusical country can be advanced only by those who have never studied its history under the Tudor sovereigns. It is not too much to say that our music in the sixteenth century was of as great account as our literature: if Palestrina is like Dante, Byrd is like Shakespeare, and he had round him a company of wit and genius not inferior to that which foregathered at the Mermaid. A curious chapter of historical accidents, into which there is no need here to enter, obscured their work for over three hundred years: now through the care and piety of a group of scholars we are recovering the bulk of our lost inheritance and beginning to realise both its extent and its value.