Sacred Sunday: “Sicut Cervus,” Palestrina

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (or just Palestrina.  Like Madonna is just “Madonna.”  …Okay maybe not.) is one of the top four Renaissance composers, in my opinion.  His music just aches with feeling.  Born in 1525 in Palermo, Italy, Palestrina the Prolific gave the world 105 masses, 68 offertories, at least 140 madrigals, more than 300 motets, 72 hymns, 35 magnificats, 11 litanies, and four sets of lamentations before he died in 1594.  This simple anthem, “Sicut Cervus,” is my personal favorite Palestrina composition out of everything he wrote.  He manages to pack such longing into simple harmonies and phrasing.  Listen to when the basses come back in at 2:06 to follow the tenors on “Ita,” the second half of the lyrics.  It literally and figuratively deepens the sentiment expressed and creates the supported space for the sopranos to come in with the long “Anima” at 2:08.  It’s a tough piece for me to sing because it always makes me choke up if I think about it too much.  This piece really is my soul’s tuning fork.

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God.

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