Exultate Deo, the choral masterpiece by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, is based on Biblical Psalm 81 and was written in 1584. Composed in Latin, the piece is generally performed a capella and features five voice parts: one soprano, two altos, one tenor and one base. Psalm 81 is comprised of joyful verses, urging rejoicing in God and praise. The happy nature of this music can be heard beginning with the very first notes, when the melody begins a run up the scale.
Supporting harmony from the lower voices also begin on an upward run, which paints the visual of sending praise up to God. At the beginning, the voices are not all singing the same lyrics at the same time but instead seem to be arranged to be repeating each other. After the first thirty seconds, all voices join in on the same lyrics for several measures. Here, the harmony accents the lyrics by providing depth when all voices are singing the same words.
The tone of Exultate Deo is bright without being excited. Instead, the way in which the music builds and the harmony fits the five voices together give a pleasant and happy feel to the piece. Depth is also apparent in Exultate Deo, because of the varying speed of the music. While the primary melody is of a medium tempo, many of the runs go up and down fairly quickly. The slower melody helps to emphasize the reverential feeling of the song, while the faster runs help to build excitement.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian composer who contributed hundreds of choral pieces that were used by the Roman Catholic church both during his lifetime and throughout the centuries following his death. The simple tones of Exultate Deo help to illustrate why this composer’s music has enjoyed popularity for nearly 500 years. Although the five voices of Exultate Deo are intricately wound together, the final product flows so smoothly to be both pleasing to listen to as well as effectively building a story – that is giving praise to God.
As the melody of Exultate Deo progresses towards the end of the piece, the pace becomes more measured, giving a reasoned feeling. As the soprano part is reaches notes in the upper end of the register, it can build the picture, similarly to the upward runs, of reaching towards heaven. There are clear divisions between phrases in Exultate Deo, as the music slows or a new chord progression is followed in order to convey the next thought from Psalm 81.
At the very end of Exultate Deo, all voices come together in a major chord that sounds similar to the end of many religious pieces, signifying both an end to the music and the story that they tell. Just as the beginning of the music signifies exultation through upward runs, the need for solemnity is expressed as the music draws downward to the final note. With far more upward surging runs than downward melodies, Exultate Deo maintains a joyful tone using smooth rhythms from start to finish.
References “Exultate Deo. ” Choral Wiki. 8 May 2009. 30 May 2009 <http://www. cpdl. org/wiki>.
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