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Palestrina was born in the town from which he took his name. He was maestro di capella at St. Peter’s in Rome from 1551-1554 and again from 1571 until his death in 1594. His “strict” style of Renaissance counterpoint has been held up as a pedagogical model by students of nearly every succeeding generation. Palestrina achieved a mastery of contrapuntal techniques, meticulous voice-leading, and refined treatment of dissonance now universally idealized as the “Palestrina style.”

Palestrina’s impressive double-choir antiphonal motet, Surge, illuminare Jerusalem, was composed in 1575 for the Feast of the Epiph- any. Unlike the opening upward interval in Corteccia’s setting of the same text, Palestrina embodies “Surge” (“Arise!”) with ascending scales, instantly creating a mood of excited anticipation. Differentiating double-choir music from eight-voice polyphony, Palestrina uses blocks of sound to seamlessly blend strict polyphony (as at the onset of the piece) with homophony (at the words “et gloria Domini”).

Palestrina’s skill with which he uses this seamless flow is perfectly exemplified at the text “et gloria eius,” which he first sets in alternating choirs, then all eight voices melding into a final contrapuntal flourish. This technique, as with so much of Palestrina’s music, came to define the double-choir style in the late 16th century.

Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem,
quia venit lumen tuum,
et gloria Domini super te orta est.
Quia ecce tenebrae operient terram
et caligo populos.
Super te autem orietur Dominus
et gloria eius in te videbitur.

Arise, shine O Jerusalem;
for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness the people:
but the Lord shall arise upon thee,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.