Palestrina’s music was significant to the development of sacred music, and represents the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. Whilst his 105 masses may be his best-known works, he also wrote over 300 motets; this setting of Salve Regina, a Marian antiphon sung at various different seasons within the Catholic liturgical calendar, is from the second volume of two books of motets for four ‘equal voices’ (‘paribus vocibus’), published in 1604.
During the counter-reformation’s Council of Trent (1545-63) the Catholic Church threatened to ban polyphony in order to ensure that liturgical texts were intelligible. Palestrina’s most celebrated work, the Missa Papae Marcelli was credited with convincing the Council that counterpoint could be comprehensible, and indeed there was a vote in favour of polyphony in 1563. Thus Palestrina was romanticised in the nineteenth-century imagination as the ‘saviour’ of church music – a reputation enhanced by Pfitzner’s 1917 opera, Palestrina, which relates the legend of the Missa Papae Marcelli.
Despite all this, Palestrina reserves homophonic clarity for just two distinct moments in this setting of the Salve Regina: the important words ‘Et Iesum’ (bb. 83-6) are emphasised according to the fashion of the time, with all the voices silenced before three bars of plain chords; more strikingly, the words ‘nobis post hoc exilium’ (‘and after this, our exile’, bb. 92-7) are repeated, first in three-part homophony, and then pared down to just two.
- Trombone 1
- Trombone 2
- Trombone 3
- Trombone 4 (Bass)