Last week I pondered the highly spiritual and almost charismatic quality of Gregorian Chant, which, in its fully developed elaborations and melismas captures a deep sighing and yearning for God. It is a kind of singing in tongues which draws the worshipper into deep worship of a contemplative kind. The “long” elaborations express a “longing” of the soul for deep union with God.
The great tradition of Renaissance Polyphony also shows forth a lot of this longing. Some have traced the origins of the polyphony to a kind of musical representation of an ancient philosophy known as the “music of the spheres.” The Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato, Pythagoras and many others had been “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages. Among the cosmological theories they advanced was that as the planets swept through the solar system they each made a perfect tone that together created a wonderful and perfect celestial harmony. In the 16th Century Kepler and others reintroduced this ancient cosmology. This may have been one of factors that influenced the sound of Renaissance Polyphony which captured the sounds of heaven and brought them to earth for the faithful to contemplate and pray with. Much of it is highly mystical and can assist deep prayer and express great longing for God.
One of the great musical masterpieces of the Church is Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus (Like the deer that yearns). The song beautifully depicts a musical “sigh” As the notes soar the longing builds and you can hear the choir giving an almost perfect expression of the human yearning for God . The song comes to a peaceful end on a note of hope that one day we shall see God. The text of this song is from Psalm 42:1. Here is the text and then the translation:
Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.
As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God.
Enjoy this musical masterpiece that so beautifully captures our longing and sigh along with the choir which is The Cathedral Singers Directed by Richard Proulx (RIP).