Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Exsultate Deo, motet for 5 voices (from Motets Book V)

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    Though Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was known both in his own time and in ours as a preeminent composer of sacred music, he was not unaware of other trends. He certainly knew, and participated in, the growing sixteenth century tradition of the Roman madrigal. Roman composers such as Palestrina and his slightly older colleague Giovanni Animuccia composed more musically sedate madrigals than their Florentine or Ferrarese contemporaries, yet the Romans still maintained the same ideal of reflecting subtle nuances of the text in their musical settings. In Palestrina's case, the same subtle ideal could often inform his sacred music as well. A sacred liturgical text such as "Exsultate Deo," the jubilant passage from the first three verses of Psalm 80, may contain equally evocative images and actions, and Palestrina, despite his reputation for reserve and musical balance in all things, would respond. In fact, when he composed a five-voiced motet on that very text (published in his Fifth Book of Motets of 1584), he gave the Psalmist's images an almost uncharacteristically lively musical garb.

    Throughout his motet Exsultate Deo, Palestrina infuses his straightforward musical structure with subtle yet clear motivic evocation of the text. Right at the outset, he breaks one of the apparent "rules" of his own melodic style and follows an upward leap (on the word "Exult!") with further upward motion. Though the motive is less than characteristic, the musical phrase structure follows an expected pattern of imitation in all voices leading to a strong harmonic cadence on the tonic. The second Point of Imitation contrasts the surging first motive to a fanfare-like intonation of "rejoice." Each half-verse of the Psalm, similarly, receives an imitative motive leading to a cadence, and each motive somehow takes inspiration from the half-verse's text. The percussion instruments mentioned in verse 2a may have suggested this phrase's more syncopated motive, and the psaltery evoked in verse 2b sounds in more arched melismatic writing. The third verse opens with a call to "blow the trumpet in Zion," and Palestrina responds with a triadic motive, a brassy medial sequence of chords, and further "musical" melismatic passagework in all voices. The final verse claims that all the music is to signify the solemnity of the day. In this case, Palestrina witholds his musical gesture, at first spinning out a series of choppy imitative motives, and finally reaching a strong homophonic conclusion as all voices sing the solemnity.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Decca 4831252
    2016 Divine Art DDA 25133
    2011 Newton Classics 8802042
    2011 Decca
    2010 Chandos 5085
    2010 Arcana 358
    2009 Collegium Records 134
    2008 St. Joseph's Media 8753
    2008 Delos 6011
    2005 Meridian Records 84522
    2002 RCA 09026638682
    2001 York Ambisonic 162
    2000 Decca 467431
    1998 Koch International Classics 37351-2
    1998 Nimbus 1758
    1996 Decca 448716
    1996 Hyperion 66850
    1994 Delos 3165
    1993 Meridian Records 84163
    1992 Nimbus 5100
    1990 American Gramaphone Records 588
    Disc Makers UV1101
    London 5235
    Fone 9020