Palestrina (1525/6 - 1594)
Words and Translations follow.
Palestrina has long been hailed as one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance. His vast output of masses, motets and other sacred works is larger than any of his contemporaries and has provided the core of the church music repertory for four centuries. Generations of music students from the eighteenth century right up to the present day, have been taught counterpoint using his compositions as a basis. This remarkable man reached legendary status in the nineteenth century, when he was seen as the father of church music and stories of angels dictating his music to him were in common circulation.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born in 1525 or 1526 in the hill-town of Palestrina near Rome, from where he took his name. As a child, he was a chorister in Rome and learnt much of his art from the musicians working in the great holy city. His first job was as organist and choirmaster back in his home-town, where he met the Bishop of Palestrina. This connection was to prove very useful to the composer, for when the Bishop was elected Pope, he took Palestrina to Rome with him and procured for him a very important job in the papal church of St. Peter's. As well as serving as maestro di capella in the Capella Giulia of St. Peter's, Palestrina also sang in the choir of the Sistine Chapel, even though married men were not normally permitted to serve there. Pope Julius III's influence was so great that Palestrina did not have to take the usual entrance examination. The pope clearly recognised Palestrina's extraordinary talents both as a composer and singer, but he also had something of a reputation for favouritism: as a gesture of gratitude to the fifteen-year-old who looked after his pet monkey, Julius made him a cardinal!
After Julius III's death, Palestrina never again enjoyed such a degree of favour from a pope. Indeed, when Paul IV became pope in 1555, he threw the composer out of the Sistine Chapel because he had decided to enforce the celibacy law that had been previously waived for Palestrina. Although times were never quite so easy for Palestrina again, he was by no means destitute. By this time, his reputation had spread across Italy and beyond, and he received numerous offers to leave Rome and work for rich patrons elsewhere. In 1568, Palestrina was offered a job by the court of Emperor Maximilian II in Vienna, but the deal fell through when the salary that Palestrina demanded was judged to be too high.
Music printing was a relatively recent invention in Palestrina's time, and he took advantage of the burgeoning market for published music by having more than half his own works published. His first book of masses, the first such volume to be printed by an Italian composer, is a mark both of how significant Palestrina was, and how much the Italian music scene was dominated by foreigners. In Rome and in Venice, the most important jobs were frequently held by Flemish and French composers, and the Italian composers of the time assimilated some of their techniques of composition. After his dismissal from the papal chapel, Palestrina published a large amount of his own music, to supplement the salaries he received from playing the organ in other Roman churches, and teaching music to students at the Seminary.
In 1571, he returned to his job at the Capella Giulia in St. Peter's and was to remain there for the rest of his life, despite the job offers that continued to flood in his direction. The following ten years were a time of great personal tragedy for Palestrina, as a plague epidemic in Rome killed off his wife, his brother and two of his sons. After his wife's death, Palestrina made plans to become a priest, but instead remarried a rich merchant's widow, thus freeing himself from financial hardship for life. When he died in 1594, he had even begun to think of returning to his native town, which would have created a perfect symmetry in his career, but his plans never came to fruition.
It was during these final years at St. Peter's that Palestrina produced several great collections of sacred music, of which the Offertoria of 1593 was the last. In 1577, he had been asked to revise the chants used in the church, a very prestigious job that formed part of a series of liturgical reforms undertaken in the light of the Counter-Reformation. Other reforms included a revised set of texts for the mass including offertories. Palestrina's four large collections of liturgical music produced during his last decade used these new texts. They can be compared to the collections of English-language music written by Elizabethan composers when they had to provide music for the new services of the Book of Common Prayer.
The Offertoria is a collection of pieces to be sung at the offertory of the mass: the moment during the service when offerings both of bread and wine for the Eucharist, and of money for charity, were presented by the people. A specific offertory text for each Sunday of the year exists, and these are the texts set by Palestrina. Many of them come from the Psalms, and their words reflect on the theme of that Sunday's worship. Even now, the moment of the offertory during the service in all Christian worship is accompanied by music: in the Anglican tradition, a hymn is often sung at this point. Palestrina's Offertoria was an unprecedented collection: no other composer had produced a complete set of offertories for the whole church year.
The Offertoria is regarded by many as one of Palestrina's greatest achievements. The combination of five voices is used throughout because of the richness and variety of texture that can be achieved. Unlike much of his music, these pieces are not based on plainchant melodies, but stem entirely from Palestrina's imagination. Less well-known than his hundred mass settings, they are nevertheless among his most beautifully crafted music.
© Helen Deeming
1. Ad te levavi
Ad te levavi animam meam:
Deus meus in te confido,
neque irrideant me inimici mei:
et enim universi, qui te expectant,
Unto thee will I lift up my soul:
my God, I have put my trust in thee;
O let me not be confounded,
neither let my enemies triumph over me.
For all they that hope in thee shall not be ashamed.
Edition no. I
Psalm 25, vv. 1-2
2. Deus tu convertens
Deus tu convertens vivificabis nos:
et plebs tua laetabitur in te:
ostende nobis Domine misericordiam tuam,
et salutare tuum da nobis.
Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us:
that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Shew us thy mercy O Lord:
and grant us thy salvation.
Edition no. II
Psalm 85 vv. 6-7
3. Benedixisti, Domine
Benedixisti Domine terram tuam:
avertisti captivitatem Jacob:
remisisti iniquitatem plebis tuae.
Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land:
thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob:
thou hast forgiven the offence of thy people.
Edition no. III
Psalm 85, vv. 1-2
4. Ave Maria
Ave Maria, gratia plena:
benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Edition no. IV
5. Deus enim firmavit
Deus enim firmavit orbem terrae,
qui non commovebitur:
parata sedes tua Deus ex tunc,
a saeculo tu es.
For God hath made the round world so sure
that it cannot be moved:
ever since the world began hath thy seat been prepared:
thou art from everlasting.
Edition no. X
Psalm 93: 1-2
6. Jubilate Deo omnis terra
Jubilate Deo omnis terra:
servite Domino in laetitia:
intrate in conspectu eius in exultatione:
quia Dominus ipse est Deus.
O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands:
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song:
for the Lord himself he is God.
Edition no. XIII
Psalm 100: 1-2
7. Jubilate Deo universa terra
Jubilate Deo universa terra:
psalmum dicite nomini eius:
venite et audite, et narrabo vobis,
omnes qui timetis Deum,
quanta fecit Dominus animae meae.
O be joyful in God all ye lands:
sing praises unto the honour of his Name.
O come hither and hearken,
all ye that fear God:
and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul.
Edition no. XIV
Psalm 66, vv. 1, 14
8. Dextera Domini
Dextera Domini fecit virtutem,
Dextera Domini exaltavit me:
non moriar, sed vivam,
et narrabo opera Domini.
The right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence:
the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me.
I shall not die, but live:
and declare the works of the Lord.
Edition no. XV
Psalm 118, vv. 16-17
9. Bonum est confiteri
Bonum est confiteri Domino
et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime.
It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord:
and to sing praises unto thy Name, O most Highest.
Edition no. XVI
from Psalm 92
10. Perfice gressus meos
Perfice gressus meos in semitis tuis,
ut non moveantur vestigia mea:
inclina aurem tuam mihi, et exaudi verba mea:
mirifica misericordias tuas,
qui salvos facis sperantes in te, Domine.
O hold thou my goings in thy paths:
that my footsteps slip not.
Incline thine ear to me and hearken unto my words.
Shew thy marvellous loving-kindness,
thou that art the Saviour of them which put their trust in thee.
Edition no. XVII
Psalm 17, vv. 5-7
11. Benedictus es Domine
Benedictus es Domine:
doce me iustificationes tuas.
In labiis meis pronuntiavi:
omnia iudicia oris tui.
Blessed art thou, O Lord:
O teach me thy statutes.
With my lips have I been telling:
of all the judgements of thy mouth.
Edition no. XVIII
Psalm 119, vv. 12-13
12. Scapulis suis
Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi Dominus,
et sub pennis eius sperabis:
scuto circumdabit te veritas eius.
The Lord shall defend thee under his wings,
and thou shalt be safe under his feathers:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Edition no. XIX
Psalm 91: 4-5
13. Meditabor in mandatis tuis
Meditabor in mandatis tuis, quę dilexi valde:
et levabo manus meas ad mandata tua, quę dilexi.
My delight shall be in thy commandments, which I have greatly loved;
my hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved.
Edition no. XX
Psalm 119, vv. 47-48
14. Justitię Domini rectę
Iustitię Domini rectę, lętificantes corda,
et iudicia eius dulciora super mel et favum:
nam et servus tuus custodit ea.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart,
and his judgements are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb:
for by them is thy servant taught.
Edition no. XXI
Psalm 19, vv. 8, 10, 11
15. Laudate Dominum
Laudate Dominum, quia benignus est:
psallite nomini eius, quoniam suavis est:
omnia quęcumque voluit fecit in clo et in terra.
O praise the Lord, for the Lord is gracious:
O sing praises unto his name, for it is lovely:
Whatsoever the Lord pleased,
that did he in heaven and in earth.
Edition no. XXII
Psalm 135, vv. 3, 6
16. Confitebor tibi Domine
Confitebor tibi Domine, in toto corde meo.
Retribue servo tuo, vivam, et custodiam sermones tuos:
vivifica me secundum verbum tuum, Domine.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.
Deal bountifully with your servant, so that I may live and observe your word.
Revive me according to your word, O Lord.
Edition no. XXIII
from Psalms 111: 1, 119: 17
17. Improperium expectavit
Improperium expectavit cor meum, et miseriam:
et sustinui qui simul mecum contristaretur, et non fuit:
consolantem me quęsivi, et non inveni:
et dederunt in escam meam fel,
et in siti mea potaverunt me aceto.
Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness.
I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man,
neither found I any to comfort me.
They gave me gall to eat,
and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink.
Edition no. XXIV
Psalm 69: 20-22
18. Terra tremuit
Terra tremuit et quievit,
dum resurgeret in iudicio Deus.
The earth shall tremble and be still,
when God rises again in judgement.
Edition no. XXV
19. Angelus Domini
Angelus Domini descendit de clo, et dixit mulieribus:
quem quęritis, surrexit sicut dixit.
The angel of the Lord came down from heaven,
and said to the women:
the one whom you seek is risen, as he said.
Edition no. XXVI
from Matthew 28
20. Deus, Deus meus
Deus, Deus meus, ad te de luce vigilo:
et in nomine tuo levabo manus meas.
O God, you are my God;
I shall watch for you from the break of day,
and I shall lift up my hands in your name.
Edition no. XXVII
Psalm 146: 1
21. Lauda anima mea
Lauda anima mea Dominum:
laudabo Dominum in vita mea:
psallam Deo meo quamdiu ero.
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
I shall praise the Lord in my lifetime:
as long as I have my being I shall sing praise to my God.
Edition no. XXVIII
Psalm 146: 1
22. Benedicite gentes
Benedicite gentes Dominum nostrum,
et obaudite vocem laudis eius:
qui posuit animam meam ad vitam,
et non dedit commoveri pedes meos:
benedictus Dominus, qui non amovit deprecationem meam,
et misericordiam suam a me.
O praise our God ye people:
and make the voice of his praise to be heard;
who holdeth our soul in life
and suffereth not our feet to slip.
Praised be God, who hath not cast out my prayer:
nor turned his mercy from me.
Edition no. XXIX
Psalm 66, vv. 7-8, 18
23. Ascendit Deus
Ascendit Deus in jubilatione:
et Dominus in voce tubę.
God is gone up with a merry noise:
and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.
Edition no. XXX
Psalm 47: 5
24. Confirma hoc, Deus
Confirma hoc, Deus,
quod operatus es in nobis:
a templo sancto tuo,
quod est in Ierusalem,
tibi offerent reges munera.
Stablish the thing, O God,
that thou hast wrought in us:
for thy temple's sake at Jerusalem,
so shall kings bring presents unto thee.
Edition no. XXXI
Psalm 68: vv. 28-29
25. Benedictus sit Deus
Benedictus sit Deus Pater,
unigenitusque Dei Filius,
sanctus quoque Spiritus:
quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam.
Blessed be God the Father,
and his only begotten Son,
and also the Holy Spirit:
who has shown his mercy upon us.
Edition no. XXXII