Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) was the most
famous composer in 16th-century Spain, and was one of
the most important composers of the
Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Pierluigi da
Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only
a composer, but also an accomplished organist and
singer as well as a Catholic priest. However, he
preferred the life of a composer to that of a
Victoria was born in Sanchidrián in the province of
Ávila, Castile around 1548 and died in 1611. Victoria's
family can be traced back for generations. Not only are
the names of the members in his immediate family known,
but even the occupation of his grandfather. Victoria
was the seventh of nine children born to Francisco Luis
de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la Concha. His
mother was of converso descent. After his father's
death in 1557, his uncle, Juan Luis, became his
guardian. He was a choirboy in Ávila Cathedral.
Cathedral records state that his uncle, Juan Luis,
presented Victoria's Liber Primus to the Church while
reminding them that Victoria had been brought up in the
Ávila Cathedral. Because he was such an accomplished
organist, many believe that he began studying the
keyboard at an early age from a teacher in Ávila.
Victoria most likely began studying "the classics" at
St. Giles's, a boys' school in Ávila. This school was
praised by St.Teresa of Avila and other highly regarded
people of music.
He was a master at overlapping and dividing choirs with
multiple parts with a gradual decreasing of rhythmic
distance throughout. Not only does Victoria incorporate
intricate parts for the voices, but the organ is almost
treated like a soloist in many of his choral pieces.
Victoria did not begin the development of psalm
settings or antiphons for two choirs, but he continued
and increased the popularity of such repertoire.
Victoria reissued works that had been published
previously, and included new revisions in each new
Victoria published his first book of motets in 1572. In
1585 he wrote his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, a
collection which included 37 pieces that are part of
the Holy Week celebrations in the Catholic liturgy,
including the eighteen motets of the Tenebrae
Stylistically, his music shuns the elaborate
counterpoint of many of his contemporaries, preferring
simple line and homophonic textures, yet seeking
rhythmic variety and sometimes including intense and
surprising contrasts. His melodic writing and use of
dissonance is more free than that of Palestrina;
occasionally he uses intervals which are prohibited in
the strict application of 16th century counterpoint,
such as ascending major sixths, or even occasional
diminished fourths (for example, a melodic diminished
fourth occurs in a passage representing grief in his
motet Sancta Maria, succurre). Victoria sometimes uses
dramatic word-painting, of a kind usually found only in
madrigals. Some of his sacred music uses instruments (a
practice which is not uncommon in Spanish sacred music
of the 16th century), and he also wrote polychoral
works for more than one spatially separated group of
singers, in the style of the composers of the Venetian
school who were working at St. Mark's in Venice.
The three days leading up to Easter Sunday – Maundy
Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – have always
been days of special significance in the Christian
church. In the Roman Catholic tradition these three
days – the Triduum – are marked by liturgies of special
solemnity during which the Passion and Death of Christ
are marked and contemplated prior to the celebration of
the Resurrection. Naturally, much of the liturgical
observance during these days is meditative in nature.
Nowhere was observance of the solemnity of the Triduum
more marked than in Counter Reformation Spain. Victoria
composed this music to be sung at the office of Matins
on each of the three days.
There are three Lamentations for each of the three days
and every one ends with the poignant phrase ‘Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deus tuum’
(‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’).
These phrases bring a musical and literary unity to the
music, though it’s very important to remember that
originally they would not have all been heard together.
However, I think there’s a very strong case for hearing
them as a sequence.
Although originally created for five (5) voices
(CCATB), I created this Interpretation of the "Tantum
ergo Sacramentum" (Hence so great a Sacrament) from
"Lectio prima, Feria quinta in Coena Domini" (Maundy
Thursday) for Woodwind Qunitet (Flute, Oboe, Bb
Clarinet, French Horn & Bassoon).