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Saturday morning quote #46: Easter, lutes & Palestrina

April 6, 2012

This Easter week, we revisit the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525 -1594), and feature our performance of one of his more popular motets, commonly associated with the Easter Vigil.

We have previously mentioned Palestrina and the use of instruments in the performance of sacred polyphony, a rather contentious issue among some purists.  The idea that sacred polyphony should only be performed a cappella stems from the historical ban on the use of instruments in the Cappella Sistina, a rule which was apparently relaxed to include the use of organ for the performance of the vespri segreti, in the presence of the Pope.

In his article, “The performance of Palestrina: Some questions, but fewer answers,” Early Music (1994) XXII(4): 666-676, Graham Dixon cites an extract from a Roman document dating from 1573:

On a feast, when a maestro brings together musicians for two Vespers and a Mass, he will invite members of the papal chapel, and instruments such as the cornett, trombone, violins and lutes.

Also mentioned are Roman references to the use of harp in sacred polyphony during during the time Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) served at the Cappella Sistina, apparently a common practice in 16th-century Spain.

We bring up this point to share our performance of Palestrina’s beloved motet Sicut cervus, and its second part, Sitivit amina mea.  This is the Tract sung for the procession to the baptismal font during the Holy Saturday vigil, and we link to our live performance at The Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus, Cleveland, Ohio.

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.
Sitivit anima mea ad Deum fortem vivum:
quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem Dei?
Fuerunt mihi lacrymae meae panes die ac nocte,
dum dicitur mihi quotidie:
Ubi est Deus tuus?

As the hart longs for the water springs,
So longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul has thirsted for the living God:
When shall I come and appear before the face of my God?
My tears have been my bread by day and by night,
While it is said to me daily:
Where is your God?

For those interested in our recorded performance of Sicut cervus and Sitivit anima mea without the added sounds of the neighborhood, mp3 singles may be found at CDBaby.

Link to Sicut Cervus single download on CdBaby

Link to Sitivit anima mea single download on CdBaby


  1. Beautiful! nice start of this Easter weekend

  2. Lovely recording, and without a doubt tasteful. For many reasons, I feel nostalgic listening to it!

  3. Thanks, Sara. We miss singing with you, too – especially on St. Lucy’s Day! And of course we miss singing at the Mac constantly.

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