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G.P. da Palestrina, arr. Knight: Adoramus Te

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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 Adoramus Te, a text sung between the Stations of the Cross in the Catholic tradition, 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.

Whether there is any truth in the story or not, it is clear that textual clarity was at the forefront of Palestrina’s mind. In the short motet Adoramus Te only the third line (‘quia per sanctam crucem tuam’, from b. 13) is set contrapuntally, and there is an abbreviated repetition of the section towards the end of the piece (from b. 26); the rest of the text is set largely homophonically, and the final line (‘redemisti mundum’) is made clear through emphatic repetition.

Parts included:

  • Score

  • Trombone 1 (Alto)

  • Trombone 2

  • Trombone 3

  • Trombone 4 (Bass)

G.P. da Palestrina, arr. Knight: Adoramus Te

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At Beethoven's funeral in 1827, two of his 'Drei Equales' for four trombones were performed. The three Beethoven pieces are without doubt the most celebrated of the Equale genre, but short chordal pieces for Trombone quartet were common in Austrian funeral music from the Eighteenth century onwards. So the term Equale, which literally just means 'equal' (referring to equal parts or voices) came to be the generic title for the very first trombone quartets.

The trombone was chose for this partiular funeral task because of its semantic association with divine presence. Its worth noting that the 'last trump' that signals the Day of Judgement in the King James Bible is 'der letzten Pasaune' in German. It is perhaps also because of this divine association, along with its technical superiority to the other early brass instruments, that the trombone was used from the Eighteenth century onwards in so many sacred choral works, long before its introduction into the symphony orchestra, often doubling the parts of the choir.

Drawing on these two elements of the trombone's history, the Equale series consists of choral works (mostly sacred in nature) arranged for trombone quartet.

Despite the vocal nature of the instrument, arranging choral works for trombones presents some difficulties, largely because so much of the composer's expressive intent resides in the word-setting, which is of course lost in transcription. Therefore great care, and every possible notation, have been used to attempt to retain the details of phrasing and emphasis which the text naturally imparts to the music.

This series is edited by Joseph Harris and Matthew Knight. 

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