Jump to content

Sicut Cervus


Recommended Posts

I'm sure I could find more things to fidget with, but I'm tired of staring at it.  Anyone else want to stare at it for me instead? 

Suggestions for notating the piano reduction are particularly welcome.  I'm not a pianist and there are a lot of moving lines to squish in there. 

I'd love to know what people think in general.  

Score attached so you can follow along with the words while you listen.  The text is from the psalms and translates to "As a hart longs for the flowing streams,
so longs my soul for thee, O God."  Hart is an old fashioned word for "deer."  It's also a pun on the word "heart."  


Here's a youtube with the score rolling by:  



Edited by pateceramics
Add youtube demo video.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It’s a very nice piece to listen to. You have a fine counterpoint going here with a lot of motion in the lines. The piano part is fine, but here are a couple of nitpicking suggestions if you like. You might have used half notes instead of tied quarters, the rhythm is very easy to follow. And in b51 make the last G a separate voice (see pic).

My only real suggestion is in b30 and one other place. The F#-G movement in the alto just sounds un-melodic to my ear. Have you tried replacing the F# with an A or D or even just repeat the G, that might be best.

This will sound great in your choir!

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 6.09.05 PM.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you so much, Ken!  I'm always worried there's a pianist out there somewhere, looking at one of my scores and quietly swearing.  :D .

I'm afraid I like the F# to G in the alto, though.  I can't really describe why other than it's so wrong, it's right.  It injects a little tension into that section.  It sounds prettier with one of your suggestions applied, but then the transcendence later feels like less of a release.  Hope that makes sense.  

Thanks for your thoughts!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really appreciate the polyphonic writing here. So much a cappella music published today is almost completely homophonic, so it's refreshing to see a piece that has nice melodies to sing in each part and some give and take between the different voices.

I think it would be more effective if you treated dissonances with more care. When you're writing in a tonal context like this, with relatively smooth voice leading, it really sticks out to my ear (and not in a good way) when an unharmonized tritone suddenly arises in the middle of a phrase, with no obvious relation to the musical drama (this happened a few times, but it struck me the most at the end of m. 13, probably because of the parallel octaves). I think you could use these striking dissonances more to your advantage if you save them for important points in the phrase (e.g. dramatic high points, cadences, etc.) where their harshness could enhance the flow of the music rather than (to my ear) undermine it.

The same could be said for accidentals--in a piece that's almost entirely diatonic, the few notes from outside the key will stand out, so they should be there for a reason. And I think some of them are (I really like the E-flat on "anima"), but I think others create harmonies that don't really fit in the context of the piece and are unnecessarily difficult to sing. For example, the alto part would be much easier if the last note of m. 29 were an A rather than a B-flat, and to my ear the B-flat is pretty unnecessary to the harmony anyway.

Same thing in m. 40--I think the B-flat in the alto against the B-natural in the bass creates a sound that doesn't really fit with the rest of the piece. Personally, I'd just change the first two alto notes to Gs in that measure--you'd have a nice C-minor/A half-diminished chord on the first two beats, which would be much easier to sing in tune and more characteristic of this piece's overall sound.

Polyphonic music like this can be easier for the listener to follow if each phrase has a clear direction to it (e.g. building toward a cadence, winding down from a climactic point, etc). There were just a few spots in this piece where I lost sense of this direction. For example, in the top line of page 5, you have an increase in dynamics from mf to f and have some nice ascending lines, but any sense of building intensity there is undercut by the fact that the texture is getting thinner (moving from 4 voices to 3, really 2 since the tenor and bass move into unison). 

A really little thing, but I'm curious why you ended on a 2nd-inversion chord. Root position would have a nicer sense of finality, and finally giving the basses a low G might give them a small--but satisfying--chance to show off, since they've been in the middle-to-high range for most of the piece.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for taking such a thorough look at this NRKulus.  I'm afraid the tritones don't bother me.  I had fun with the text painting in this piece.  There's nothing inherently wrong with a tritone, they just want to resolve, so having one at measure 13, on the word "desiderat" feels very appropriate.  How better to express the verb "to desire" (some editions translate it as "to long," "to thirst," or "to pant") for water, than with chords that ache particularly harshly for a resolution?  The main objection to them in choral music is that they can be hard for singers to hear in their heads, so sometimes a few people land on the wrong note, and the tuning falters.  There's a tritone in, I want to say the Faure "Requiem"? that half the alto section chronically misses because they are leaping down to it and it feels so much more intuitive to leap to the tenor note.  (Audiences don't notice, because the altos who get it wrong are still on a note in the chord).  But in this case, it's a harmonic tritone, not a melodic one, and the notes are in the key already, and are approached by step, not by leap, so it should be solidly tuned without any problem.   

At measure 40, the Bb in the alto is serving a similar purpose of text painting.  The psalm text is all about the soul longing for God, so "anima mea," "my soul" crawls its way chromatically, hand-over-hand up the scale.  The journey is supposed to be a struggle musically, since the text compares longing for God with a wild animal desperate for water.  So we're crawling by half-steps.  

The thinning of the texture at the top of page 5 was to another way to play with dynamics (four voices in harmony at forte is quieter than four voices in unison at forte because of the way the sound waves cancel each other out or augment each other).  

At the end, I really like inverted chords, and since the text speaks of longing, but never of union with God being achieved, it felt appropriate to leave the audience hanging.  We resolve a little, out of all that polyphony, we're at least quieting down into homophony and heading back home when we finally get to the text "ad te Deus" and find out what it is all this unquenchable desire has been about, but there's no promise that we've found God, so landing on an inverted chord, and then cutting the lights and saying, "that's all folks, show's over" felt fun to me.  

Does it all work?  I don't know.  Your objections are certainly valid and well-reasoned and there may be better ways I could have supported my intentions.  Shrug.  I'll have to see if I can get someone to sing it and see how it sounds live.  (:

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, pateceramics--it's definitely helpful to know your reasoning behind what you did. I think the 6/4 chord at the end definitely makes sense in terms of the text painting you describe.

I think the intent behind your text painting is great--my suggestion (to clarify) is that you could do it in a way that's more consistent with the rest of the piece's "sound world"--since having too many different styles and harmonic ideas in a short piece can get overwhelming to the listener. I had a composition teacher who said it's best to limit yourself to 2 (or at most 3) different types of chord (e.g. triadic, extended tertian, clusters, etc.) in a short piece. Obviously there are a lot of exceptions to this, but keeping it in the back of your mind can help achieve a little more stylistic consistency.

And tritones are great! My suggestion has more to do with being careful about where you use them in structuring your phrases.

In case it wasn't clear, I really like the piece! I hope you keep up the good work with polyphony and text painting, and post it here if you manage to get a live recording. Cheers!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...