Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Super flumina Babylonis

I last wrote about Palestrina’s motet setting the first two verses of Psalm 136 (137) on September 29th, 2012:

Palestrina’s famous motet  Super flumina Babylonis (By the rivers of Babylon) was first published in 1581. It’s “classic” Palestrina in which as the arc of the motet evolves, the counterpoint becomes ever more involved. Palestrina’s setting gently propels the text forward through a series of well-defined sections which together make a deeply satisfying musical unity. It’s sung here by the Westminster Cathedral Choir with a discipline and vocal control that makes this performance conducted by James O’Donnell very special.

Today I’m putting that performance side-by-side with that of the Sistine Chapel Choir under Massimo Palombella, released in 2015 not only because both performances are well worth hearing in and of themselves but also because they provide a great opportunity to contrast two different schools of choral singing, the English and the Italian. Enjoy :-).



Text & Translation: Super flumina Babylonis

Super flumina Babylonis illic sedimus
et flevimus dum recordaremur tui, Sion:
in salicibus in medio eius, suspendimus organa nostra.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept when we remembered thee, O Sion.
And in the midst of the willows we hung up our harps.

Psalm 136 (137): 1-2


2 thoughts on “Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Super flumina Babylonis

  1. Have stumbled across this site whilst thinking about what anthem to ask the choir of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace to sing at my mother’s funeral service this Friday (30th Sept 2016). Thank you for distracting me so wonderfully – I have loved listening to these contrasting performances of the Super flumina Babylonis.
    Was considering Videte Miraculum by Thomas Tallis, partly because he wrote music to be performed specifically in this chapel, although I’m not sure if this particular anthem would have been performed there in his time.
    Other suggestions gratefully received.

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