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Jesu, rex admirabilis - Palestrina

The text is a short extract from a much longer hymn by St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a key reformer of the Cistercian monastic order. The hymn is called "Jesu dulcis memoria," which we know in one translation as "Jesu, the very thought of thee." The address to Christ is direct and intimate; the central word is "mane" ("remain"): if Christ remain, then light and sweetness will be present too.

The setting by Palestrina (1525-1594) is a very simple one: three parts, at first moving together, then in imitation of each other (with the upper voices crossing over each other): most phrases rise then fall gently to a quiet cadence. To modern ears it feels like the music is in a minor key (D minor in the version we sing), but the raised 6th (the B natural) identifies it as neither a minor nor a major key, but one of the "modes" that were used in the West right through the medieval and renaissance periods (the dorian mode), and which can still be heard in folk music (e.g., "Scarborough Fair," on "rosema-ry and thyme").

Jesu, rex admirabilis et triumphator nobilis, 
dulcedo ineffabilis, totus desiderabilis:
Mane nobiscum, Domine, et nos illustra lumine, 
pulsa mentis caligine, mundum reple ducedine.

O Jesus, wondrous king and noble conqueror, 
unutterable sweetness, wholly desirable:
Remain with us, Lord, and enlighten us with light,
drive away the darkness of our minds, fill the world with sweetness.