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ANAYLISIS ON PALESTRINA’S EXULTATE DEO

Exultate Deo, the choral masterpiece by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, is based on Biblical Psalm 81
and was written in 1584. Composed in Latin, the piece is generally performed a capella and features five
voice parts: one soprano, two altos, one tenor and one bass. Psalm 81 is comprised of joyful verses,
urging rejoicing in God and praise. The happy nature of this music can be heard beginning with the very
first notes, when the melody begins a run up scale.

The motet itself was the most important form of early polyphonic writing from the thirteenth century
onwards. The overall treatment of this motet is contrapuntal. Palestrina’s imitative entry technique in
considered the most important of all the technical processes in his art. Palestrina also uses the
technique of single-subject imitation, applying one subject to one phrase, or partial phrase of the Latin
text. This is seen in the beginning of the piece where on voice enters alone, stating the subject, and is
imitated by the other voices at various distance of time and interval.

The tone of Exultate Deo is bright without being excited. Instead, the way in which the music builds and
the harmony fits the five voices together give a pleasant and happy feel to the piece. Depth is also
apparent in Exultate Deo, because of the varying speed of the music. While the primary melody is of a
medium tempo, many of the runs go up and down fairly quickly. The slower melody helps to emphasize
the reverential feeling of the song, while the faster runs help to build excitement.

Palestrina divides the text into seven different phrase groupings, each with new melodic material, and
the piece’s sixty-seven measures are divided with the larger sections at the beginning and the end. As
the melody of Exultate Deo progresses towards the end of the piece, the pace becomes more measured,
giving a reasoned feeling. As the soprano part reaches notes in the upper end of the register, it can build
the picture, similarly to the upward runs. There are clear divisions between phrases in Exultate Deo, as
the music slows or a new chord progression is followed in order to convey the next thought form Psalm
81.

At the very end of Exultate Deo, all voices come together in a major chord that sounds similar to the end
of many religious pieces, signifying both an end to the music and story that they tell. Just as the
beginning of the music signifies exultation through upward runs, the need for solemnity is expressed as
the music draws downward to the final note. With far more upward surging runs than downwards
melodies, Exultate Deo maintains a joyful tone usinf smooth rhythms from start to finish.