Super flumina Babylonis

Composer: Giovannni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Editior: Ko Matsushita


Editor’s note:

I would like to share one of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s masterpieces, Super flumina Babylonis (By the River of Babylon).

The text of this song is based on Psalm 137:1-2, and it depicts a scene from the Babylonian Captivity, when the New Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II brought captives to Babylonia after the fall of Jerusalem. It is a sad but beautiful scene in which the captive Jewish people fall to their knees and shed tears for their homeland, Zion.

The text says, “I hung our harps on a willow tree,” which is a reference to the third and fourth verses of Psalm 137, which is used in this song: 

3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

In other words, it is an expression of strong faith that one cannot sing a song of praise to God in front of people who ridicule Him.

According to the book of Ezekiel, most of the captives of Judah were forced to migrate along the Chebar River in Babylonia. This piece begins with a beautiful and gentle polyphony, reminiscent of the gentle flow of the river, and then, in the scene of “kneeling and weeping,” a decisive homophony appears. It is a brilliant rhetoric that shows how “extraordinary” and “tragic” this scene was. In addition, at the end of the piece, there are three beats hidden in each part, which expresses the “strong faith” mentioned above with the “perfect number of beats = three beats”. The triple time that appears at the end of the piece is a mixture of two types of triple time with different denominators, forming a geometric beauty.

I have made a new arrangement of this beautiful work for the performance of the women’s choir. The Renaissance works have been the envy of women’s chorus groups because of the paucity of choral works for treble voices. This series is an attempt to revive these masterpieces for treble voices, edited with great care so that the arrangements do not deviate from the style of the period.

Printed score and digital score are prepared. Please choose one below.


Composer: G. P. da Palestrina
Editor: Ko Matsushita
Parts: SSAA
Accompaniment: A cappella
Language: Latin
Performance duration: 3’30”-4’00”
Pages: 12