Aspice Domine is unlike the two other penitential pieces in presenting a public rather than a private religion. It is thought to be related to one of the most infamous acts of the century, the Sack of Rome in 1527, where the troops of Gombert’s employer, the Emperor Charles V, took the city and pillaged it. In the motet the writer notes how ‘the city is made desolate’; the first half of the piece is highly dissonant, reflecting the devastation. In the second part, God is asked to surround the city with a protecting wall and defend it with the weapons of his power, and here Gombert provides much more consonant harmony, as if to indicate that the world will be put right with God’s help. If the theory concerning the motet’s political significance is correct, it was with the help of the Emperor, not God, that Rome was in future to be protected, provided of course that the Pope (the Medici Clement VII) paid considerably more attention to Charles V’s concerns in future.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007