Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Peccantem me quotidie

Palestrina’s five-part (SATTB) setting of Peccantem me quotidie (Sinning daily) the seventh Respond at Matins for the Dead was published in Venice in 1572 in Motettorum liber secundus. It’s one of those motets that I point to whenever I hear people describing Palestrina’s music as all technique and no emotion. It’s a piece of music that’s imbued both with the fear of death and the need for repentance. Just listen to how Palestrina makes use of block chords at ‘timor mortis conturbat me’ (the fear of death troubles me) or the darkness devastation and despair of the descending phrases used to proclaim that in Hell there is is no redemption (Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio), this is the musical equivalent of Milton’s horrified description of the flames of Hell that cast no light only a horrible sort of  visible darkness:

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe

But having plumbed the depths Palestrina as a Christian now makes his plea for mercy ending the motet on a note of light and hope. Enjoy :-)


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Peccantem me quotidie

Peccantem me quotidie,
et non me paenitentem,
timor mortis conturbat me.
Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio.
Miserere mei, Deus, et salva me.

Seventh Respond at Matins for the Dead

Sinning daily,
and not repenting,
the fear of death troubles me.
In Hell there is no redemption.
Have mercy on me, O God, and save me.

Performers: Westminster Cathedral Choir conducted by James O’Donnell.

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