Sicut cervus is likely the best known of Palestrina's motets. In it is embedded the beauty and dignity for which Palestrina's music is known and judged to be the ideal of Renaissance counterpoint. The motet's polyphonic flow and gentle melodic arches contain a quiet drama. While the motet's word-painting is not overt, neither is it hidden. There is a deep feel for the words' meaning as the voices begin quietly in imitation for the words Sicut cervus (As the hart). At the word desiderat (longs), rhythm quickens and the line rises to its peak at the word: fontes (streams); as the words seek their object, so the melodic lines seek their goal. As the text's thought turns toward the self with the words ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus (Thus longs my soul for Thee, God), shorter motives in closer imitation and intensifying dissonance patterns express the human soul's fervent desiring and end the motet.
© James Olesen