Sicut Cervus: An…unfortunate piece

Erin Tsai, Staff Writer

“Sicut Cervus” is Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina’s latest banger of the 1500s. As a leading expert on new musical releases, I will comprehensively rate “Sicut Cervus” based on four vital criteria: composition, lyrics, performance quality and if it suits my personal tastes. 

Composition

The most immediate detriment to “Sicut Cervus” was the missing dynamics throughout the piece. How does a Renaissance-style piece not include modern dynamics? I know that Renaissance pieces usually don’t have much dynamics, but Palestrina, I thought you were different. Additionally, the melody almost never has drastic changes in pitch. Are the singers so bad that they can’t sing with variety? Despite this calamity, I must admit that the polyphonism of the piece is still impressive. Every voice part had its own phrasing and markings, essentially making “Sicut Cervus” four separate pieces skillfully mishmashed into one. I would tell Palestrina to hold a Masterclass on polyphonic music, except I’m afraid he’d influence up-and-coming composers into creating an era of boring music. 3/10.

Lyrics

Palestrina, did you even proofread these lyrics before you released “Sicut Cervus”? The entire piece is repeating a single sentence for three minutes. It’s not even a particularly nice sentence. The English translation of the original Latin lyrics is as follows: “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.” In normal English, that means, “The deer longs for springwater like my soul longs for you, God.” How does this make sense? If the deer longs for springwater, it can just go drink springwater. The use of visual imagery and symbolism of the deer and springwater is quite ineffective due to how short the lyrics are and the lack of greater context behind the lyrical meaning. Moreover, the allusion to God is not very religiously inclusive for non-Bible believers. The lyrics were the greatest letdown, especially since the tone sounded so elegant in comparison. -17/10.

Nicole Curtis

Performance

I was initially impressed with how smooth each of the parts sounded, not only within the parts but also throughout the chorus. But, I noticed that there are no existing recordings of performances of the piece from the original time period, which is disappointing to say the least. The thing I am the most angry about is the anti-feminist sentiment in this piece. “Sicut Cervus” is written for an all-men’s chorus, using young boys to take the place of sopranos and altos. This is clear discrimination against female singers, and therefore, all women. What kind of precedent are you setting for girls who want to be singers and musicians? How do you expect women to listen to your music without any proper representation? I’m hoping that you didn’t do this with ill intent and take this as an opportunity to educate yourself on the importance of feminism. 6/10.

Personal taste

This is by far the most crucial and important of the four criteria. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad, but I definitely had higher expectations for Palestrina. The piece was pretty, but to be honest, it was kind of bland, especially in comparison to the Top 100 songs of the modern era. I’m sorry to say this, but if “Sicut Cervus” is indicative of all Renaissance music, then the Renaissance era probably went out of style for a reason. Even though it had its moments, as a piece overall, “Sicut Cervus” was quite… unfortunate. I really suggest some further research on the composer’s part. 4/10.

Note: The Howler reached out to Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina for comment but has not received a response as of Sept. 28.