There should be more of a hubbub about the Victoria anniversary year. As a matter of fact, you might not have even known that 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis da Victoria, the finest of all Spanish composers.
It’s an interesting coincidence that Victoria (1548 – 1611) was born in Ávila, the hometown of St. Teresa (1515 – 1582), the great Christian mystic. Victoria’s music has a spiritual intensity that puts him in a unique place and to my mind only Bach, Messiaen and John Coltrane achieve similar results. For me, Victoria sits comfortably in the company of St. Teresa.
And with El Greco too. A contemporary of Victoria (El Greco’s dates are 1541 – 1614), his paintings capture in oils and canvas what Victoria’s does with music.
I hear Victoria’s Marian music with its bright, heaven-bound, lighter-than-air qualities and my brain references El Greco’s work. Both masters have a straight-to-the-heart, take-no-prisoners appeal that leaves no middle ground. Listen to the Victoria Requiem or Tenebrae Responses and El Greco’s dark, pained skies and suffering Saints come to mind.
I first heard Victoria during a Good Friday service at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church in NY about 20 years ago. The choir was singing his Popule meus during the veneration of the cross. It’s one of the pieces Victoria included it in a massive publication called Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae which includes nine Lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, hymns, settings of the Passion and other music. Published in Rome in 1585, it is the most complete collection of music for Holy Week ever created.
Victoria’s Lamentations of Jeremiah for Maundy Thursday are going to be sung by TENET, the superb vocal ensemble on March 19th at that very St. Ignatius of Antioch Church where I had my Victoria epiphany. This is going to be an outstanding program because in addition to Victoria, TENET is singing works by Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500 –1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and a selection from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (13th c.). If you don’t know the music of the Spanish Siglos de Oro, you are in for a revelation. Morales was the most important Spanish composer before Victoria and Guerrero always surprises, a composer skilled in both sacred and secular music.
Tickets are available from TENET and can also be purchased the night of the concert. Past experience with TENET concerts means you would do well to order now, St. Ignatius fills up rather quickly.