The DoveSong

The Text Library
   Positive Music
        Movement (2004)
   Through the Centuries
        Gregorian Chant
        15th Century
        16th Century
        17th Century
        18th Century
        19th Century
        20th Century
        21st Century
   Gospel Music
        Black Gospel
        Mountain Gospel
        Southern Gospel
   World Music
        Chinese Music
        Indian Music
        Persian Music
   Popular Music

 The MP3 Library
(no longer operational)
   Western Classical
        Plainsong (Chant)
   Gospel Music
        Mountain Gospel
        Black Gospel
        Southern Gospel
   World Music
        Middle East


By Jon Dixon

From the magazine Early Music Review (September, 1997)

Tomás Luis de Victoria, arguably the most outstanding composer of the Spanish golden age, ranks with Byrd, Lassus and Palestrina as one of the four greatest composers of the 16th century. He was long overshadowed in public esteem by Palestrina, and it was not until the early 20th century that a complete edition of his works was prepared by the great Spanish scholar Felipe Pedrell. This is an invaluable and well documented edition to which all subsequent editors are indebted, but, because it makes extensive use of C clefs and presents the music at original written pitch, it has not facilitated the performance of this fine music as much as it deserves. Later, in the mid 60s and early 70s, two excellent critical editions, now prepared according to modem editorial conventions, were produced in modem clefs and reduced notation by Higinio Anglés and Samuel Rubio. These made the music more accessible and added considerably to our knowledge of the various sources, but neither edition covered the whole of Victoria's output and both presented the music at original pitch. A number of very useful and well-produced performing editions have also appeared but comparatively little of Victoria's output was covered.

I have always greatly admired Victoria's music and, wanting to sing more of it than I could find in existing performing editions, have devoted a good deal of effort in my small publishing venture, JOED Music Publications, to producing new performing editions of it. The more I sang, the more I wanted to explore the full range of his works and to make them available to other performers. Victoria was born in 1548, so 1998 will be the 450th anniversary of his birth (and as it happens, my 70th anniversary). Half centenaries are seldom considered of great moment but, as the next full one, the 400th anniversary of Victoria's death, is not till 2011, I decided to produce a complete performing edition of Victoria's works in time for next year. This work is far advanced and a full list of the editions produced and planned is given later in this issue.

As this work has progressed, the high quality and range of Victoria’s writing have constantly impressed me. His musical output was relatively small compared with say Palestrina (who published five times as much) and Lass-us (who published even more), and he published no secular music. But the music he did publish shows a generally very high level of inspiration and musical craftsmanship and it is clear, from the constant revisions he made to the successive editions of his works that appeared during his lifetime and from some of his comments in prefaces to his works, that he adopted a highly critical attitude to what he wrote. In the dedication to Pope Gregory XIII of his 1581 volume of Hymni totius anni he speaks of music being an art to which he was instinctively drawn, and of having devoted long years of study to the perfection of his skills in it, with the help and encouragement of others of critical judgement: 'ad quae naturali quodam feror instinctu, multos iam annos, et quidem, ut aliorurn iudicio mihi videor intelligere, non infeliciter, versor, et elaboro.'

His style shows the influence of earlier masters in the Spanish school and also that of his long stay in Rome, where he probably had considerable contact with Palestrina, whom he succeeded as Maestro di Cappella of the Roman seminary in 1571. He shares with Palestrina a liking for smooth conjoint melodic lines and carefully worked double counterpoint, but his music contains (even after making allowance for changing conventions about the use of musica ficta) more accidentals and a subtle use of harmonic coloration which sets it apart from that of any of his near contemporaries and gives it that quality of passionate intensity for which it is so justly renowned. His earlier music is more modal than the predominantly tonal style of his later publications, but it is all very much singers' music. It avoids unexpected or extreme progressions and even his largest scale polychoral music is surprisingly easy to perform. He makes use of a wide range of techniques of musical construction. He has an extraordinary capacity to create extremely moving music of compelling beauty and great expressiveness using simple or lightly ornamented homophony. He is a master of canonic device and his constant use of imitation is marked by an impeccable technical workmanship and great naturalness of voice leading. Much of his work is permeated by plainsong and musical material derived from it. His last published work, the 6-voice Requiem, is one the finest cantus firmus masses ever written, but he also wrote music of almost madrigalian vivacity, and, in the 9-part Missa Pro victoria, a mass verging on baroque style.

Victoria seems always to have been especially inspired by Marian and Song of Songs texts. He wrote 10 extremely fine settings of Marian antiphons. His large scale setting of the Salve Regina for double choir is well known and rightly cherished for the wonderful intensity of its finely-wrought fugal sections and the expansiveness and sonority of its double choir writing; but there is much fine music in the other settings. The double-choir settings of the Alma Redemptoris, Ave Regina and Regina Coeli are also superb and the 5-part settings of these antiphons and the 6-part setting of the Salve Regina, written in a more modal and plainsong based style, are no less beautiful and surprisingly sonorous.

He wrote 20 masses. One, the Quarti toni, is generally considered to be a free mass; four, Ave Maris stella, De beata Virgine, Pro defunctis a4 and the Officium defunctorum are paraphrase masses based on plainsong; four, Gaudeamus, Pro victoria, Simile est Regnum and Surge propera, are parody masses based on motets by other composers; and the remaining 11 are parody masses based on Victoria's own motets. Here again there is much fine music in a variety of styles. As his style developed Victoria tended to write more concisely, to write in more parts and to choose for parody material motets of a joyous and buoyant character. His predilection for Marian or Song of Songs material is reflected in three outstanding double-choir masses, Alma Redemptoris, Ave Regina and Salve Regina, based on his own antiphons in 5 and 8 parts, and four other fine masses in 4, 5 and 6 parts -Ave maris stella, De Beata Maria, Trahe me post re and Vidi speciosam. Finally, there is a wonderful triple choir mass, Laetatus sum, recently broadcast by the Gabrieli Consort, which is based on his own joyous triple choir psalm.

Victoria wrote fewer than 50 motets, but they are all of high quality. 'There are 23 4-part motets. These include such well known favorites as 0 quam Gloriosum, 0 magnum mysterium and Ne Timeas Maria and many others of equal quality such as Pueri Hebraeorum, Doctor bonus, 0 decus apostolicam and Veni sponsa Christi. All these motets are set for SATB except for four paribus vocibus pieces which I have transcribed for womens' voices. There are only nine 5-part motets but these include some very fine works two of which, Ascendens Christus and Dum complerentur, Victoria used as models for parody masses for Ascensiontide and Whitsun. There are 13 6-part motets, containing a very high proportion of master works. These include, amongst others, 0 Domine Jesu Christe, an elevation motet of ecstatic stillness; Versa est in luctum, a funeral motet of rich harmony and dramatic intensity; Quern vidistis, a Christmas motet full of the mystery and joyfulness of Christ's birth; Ardens est cor meum, an Easter motet of plangent longing, and Surrexit Pastor bonus, another of joyous exuberance; and three motets drawing on material from the Song of Songs, Nigra sum, Trahe me post re and Vidi speciosam - the latter two forming models for two of his parody masses. Finally, there are two 8-part motets, both excellent; Ave Maria, a beautiful Advent motet for SATB+SATB and O Ildefonse, a striking setting for SSAB+SATB of a mythical event in the life of a little known Spanish saint, to whom the BVM is reputed to have appeared.

In his Officiurn Hebdomadae Sanctae of 1585, Victoria published a sumptuous choir book of music designed for use in Holy Week. This contains a rich and wide-ranging collection of works, some of which are less well known than their quality merits. Bruno Turner's excellent edition of the Tenebrae Responsories will have introduced many singers to the moving and austere beauty of one of the most important items in the collection; but there are also three fine sets of Lamentations; settings of the St. Matthew and St John Passions; two Elevation motets; full settings of the Benedictus and of Psalm 51; a rich and sublime setting, based on Spanish chant. of the Easter hymn Vexilla Regis; an extended setting (the first two pages of which are shown on the centre page spread of this issue) of the Improperia from the Liturgy for Good Friday, which contains a set of reproaches addressed by the crucified Saviour to his people. These are chanted by two choirs during the Veneration of the Cross and comprise twelve verses which contrast the Divine compassion to his chosen people and the sufferings inflicted on Christ during his Passion. In the full rite the first verse is proceeded by the refrain 'Popule meus' and each of the first three verses is followed by the Disagion (Greek. thrice holy), a refrain chanted first in Greek and then in Latin, and the remaining nine verses by the refrain 'Popule meus.'

In his Psalms and sequences Victoria provided ten impressive works, nine for double-choir, and one for triple-choir, Laetatus sum. These comprise six Vespers Psalms; a Psalm for Compline on Sundays; and magnificent settings of Victimae Paschali, Veni Sancte Spiritus and Lauda Sion, the Sequences for Easter. Whitsun and Corpus Christi. This group of works employs with great effectiveness all the techniques of polychoral writing in music of great rhythmic vitality, sonorousness and energy. One could construct a fine 'Victoria Vespers' using selections from these Psalms and the double-choir Magnificat, or an impressive concert of triple-choir music using Laetatus sum, the mass based on it and the triple-choir Magnificat, all of which employ similar forces and for which Victoria provided organ parts.

Victoria produced 16 alternatim settings of the Magnificat; and two non-alternatim settings, one for double and one for triple-choir. The latter two are more extended and large scale pieces but the former also include much fine writing, mostly in four parts but often expanding into more parts at the end of the piece. Then there are 34 hymns, almost all for SATB. These, like the motets, are arranged in liturgical sequence for use throughout the year and many of them are paralleled by similar hymns in the Anglican liturgy. There is much of interest and beauty here that is worth exploring and, as usual, Victoria manages to achieve much using simple resources.

Those who would like to hear some of these works in recent recordings may like to listen to the following CDs:

Westminster Cathedral Choir- Hyperion CDA66886,

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Dum complerentur, Missa Dum complerentur, Popule meus, Vexilla Regis, Veni Creator Spiritus, Pangua lingua & Lauda Sion.

Westminster Cathedral Choir- Hyperion CDA66738,

Trahe me post re, Missa Trahe me post Te, Alma redemptoris a8, Ave Regina a8, Regina Cole a8, Salve Regina a8 & Magnificat prima Toni a8.

Gabriel Consort: Archive 447 095-2 Official dejiunctorum a6.

Scores can be ordered from:

JOED Music Publications
234 Stanley Park RD


Rising World Entertainment

Copyright © 1997, 2000, 2005, 2010 by RisingWorld Entertainment
All rights reserved.