In his motet output Clemens sometimes adopts formal strategies that seem independent of text expression. In the large tripartite motet De profundis
, which sets Psalm 130, for instance, the first section ends with an extended downward sequence at ‘Domine, quis sustinebit?’ (‘Lord, who could bear it?’). The texture is full at this point, with the lowest two of the five voices moving steadily in minims and in parallel thirds, while the soprano and one of the altos adopt a dactylic rhythm (semibreve–minim–minim), again mostly in parallel motion. Meanwhile the quinta pars
or second alto is far more rhythmically active, syncopating with semiminims and minims against the prevailing tactus. No voice straightforwardly underlays the text (and the sixteenth-century sources are unhelpful in their underlay indications), reinforcing the impression that this passage was conceived as a sonic unit rather than specifically with the expression of these words in mind. This is underlined when a reworked version of the same sequence reappears at the end of the final section, but this time in triple rhythm, so that the four beats of a sequential unit in the first statement make up one-and-one-third breves rather than one breve, and the accentual pattern is ingeniously displaced.
If such quasi-instrumental passages suggest a composer most closely attuned to sonority, elsewhere in De profundis Clemens refutes any suggestion that he might be oblivious of textual concerns. Earlier in the third section, the word ‘misericordia’ (‘mercy’) is treated homophonically and with perfect Humanist word-stress; and towards the beginning of the piece ‘Si iniquitates’ (‘If [you should observe] transgressions’) is not only sung homophonically but repeated at a higher pitch for increased emotional effect. De profundis as a whole is one of Clemens’s most impressive achievements, running for nearly ten minutes as a freestanding musical structure.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2010