Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus is a prayer that shows the full submission of an individual to God, and his longing to dwell in his place. Being a prayer, I love that the song is slow to evict emotion and emphasize the lyrics. Slow compositions force one to keenly listen to the words as each word is stressed. It evokes a deeper understanding and meaning of the words, not just singing or enjoying the melody. Thus, the tempo of the composition was intentionally slowed to make the prayer more meaningful by forcing the listener to give a bigger focus to the words of the song.
The composition is also a definitive piece by Palestrina, who effectively used dissonance to regulate weak beats in every measure. The result is a smooth and consonant type polyphony that distinguishes the song from many others. To achieve this, the composer used different strategies. First, the dissonances are confined to passing notes, suspensions, and weak beats. Also, the music flow is not static, by a dynamic approach with the melody containing few leaps between notes. Lastly, the polyphony is completed with immediate stepwise motion in the opposite direction whenever a small leap occurs.
Lastly, the melody is a perfect complement to the poetic prowess of the lyrics. The lyrics, which compare a thirsty deer’s longing for water and the persona’s longing to be with God, can be felt in the melody of the song. The serene, sensuous, and four-voice renaissance makes one feel the flow of the water that would make any thirsty deer run towards the sound of the water to get satisfaction. The sound alone is so satisfying, and the continuously aspiring lines enhance the sense of longing, effectively passing the message.