2015-02-08 Notes from the Bench

“Adoramus te” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate



Adoramus te, Christe,
et benedicimus tibi:
quia per sanctam crucem
tuam redemisti mundum.


We adore thee, O Christ,
and we bless thee:
because by thy holy cross
thou hast redeemed the world.

The text “Adoramus te” is a short stanza that expresses the Church’s devotion to the Holy Cross of Jesus. It is often sung or recited as a response during the Good Friday liturgy during the ritual adoration of the cross and is sung as a short response during Vespers for the feasts of the Finding of the Holy Cross on May 3 and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.




Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) was an influential Italian composer during the Renaissance era who is best known for his sacred music. A prolific writer, his oeuvre includes 105 mass settings, 68 offertories, 140 madrigals, 300 motets, 72 hymns, 35 magnificats, and 11 litanies. The refinement of Palestrina’s works represents the cumulative development of Renaissance polyphony that has come to define the late-Renaissance style. Palestrina’s works are frequently performed by a variety of choirs today, are considered models of polyphonic writing and analyzed by music students, and considered by many a type of “ideal” liturgical music by which other sacred compositions are compared to.

Giovanni Pierluigi was better known by his place of birth, the town of Palestrina which is near Rome and at that time one of the Papal states. His music education began as a chorister at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. As a professional musician, Palestrina was the principal organist for the church of St. Agapito in his home town from 1544 to 1551. In 1551, he was appointed maestro de cappella at the Cappella Giulia, the papal choir at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and music director of the Julian Chapel. He also held other appointments as music director for a number of chapels and churches in Rome, notably, the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore. He returned to St. Peter’s and the Julian Chapel in 1571 and remaining there until his death.

During the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries, the music culture of Italy was dominated by foreign-born composers whose work was considered superior to that of native-born musicians, and were frequently employed by the wealthy Italian nobility. North-European style of polyphony was particularly popular in Italy and the works of Franco-Flemish composers such as Guillaume Dufay (c1397-1474) and Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521) were highly regarded and influential. As a native-born Italian, Palestrina was an exception to this trend and demonstrated considerable skill in writing polyphonic music and enjoyed considerable fame during his lifetime.

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