Victoria

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.

Bernini's "The Ecstasy of Saint 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.

El Greco's "Assumption of the Virgin"

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.

El Greco's "Christ Carrying the Cross"

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.

28 Responses to “Victoria”

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Craig.

  2. Mike N Says:

    Great blog. Incidentally, I live in L.A. and this month the Tallis Scholars are performing an all-Victoria concert in downtown L.A., which I am dragging my wife to. By the way, I see the El Greco-Victoria connection — but to I tend to associate the mannered El Greco with the mannered Madrigals of Monteverdi, and especially Gesualdo. There’s a sweetness to Victoria that clashes with the dark of El Greco, to me.

    • Craig Zeichner Says:

      Delighted that you are enjoying the blog. Tallis Scholars are performing that same Victoria program here in NY, looking forward to it. Hadn’t thought about the El Greco – Monteverdi – Gesualdo connection. You’ve inspired me to do some listening this weekend! All the best and please keep in touch.

      • Sigmund Rosen Says:

        Always hoping that the pre-mannerist but chromatic work of Vicentino, especially his Petrarch settings, will get a hearing.

      • Craig Zeichner Says:

        Don’t know his music, but now you’ve inspired me to do some research.

      • Mike N Says:

        I’m curious now too, but see that there is very little recorded of Vincentino’s music. Speaking of composers of chromatic music who are shamefully under-recorded, how about Cipriano De Rore? There are several recordings of the Missa Praeter Rerum, and the same four or five madrigals all find their ways into anthologies. But there seem to be no complete recordings of his various books of madrigals in print, or any of his many masses. Can’t one of the many outsanding early music choral groups — or Naxos, for that matter — devote some albums to his works?

      • Craig Zeichner Says:

        Difficult to explain, van Nevel and Huelgas were champions of the music and actually recorded his St. John Passion. Of course they recorded the ubiquitous Praeter rerum seriem too. It would be a great project for somebody to record the other masses and madrigals. Is there a good performing edition out there?

  3. Mike N Says:

    No idea about performing editions, since I’m not a musician. But you would think someone with the reputation of De Rore would get more attention. Incidentally, I liked the Van Nevel recording of the Missa Praeter rerum very much — together with the beautiful madrigals and motets that appear on that disc, includingly the wildly chromatic Calami sonum ferentes. I know nothing about the marketing of early music, but it’s odd to me that you can find multiple discs of Flemish masters like Vaet, Gombert, Non Papa, Willaert — wonderful composers, but does the demand for their works really exceed the demand for those of De Rore?

    For that matter, Lassus is very well-represented in discography, but my understanding is that there is a large quantity of his music that has never been recorded. I recently read Debra Wearing’s “Forever Today,” about her husband, Clive Wearing, the Lassus scholar who suffered a crippling case of amnesia due encephalitis in 1985. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was still unearthing and editing the manuscripts of Lassus, and I believe he was the chief editor of Lassus’ works. Shows you how serious early music scholarship is still somewhat a recent phenomena.

    • Craig Zeichner Says:

      So much of early music recording marketing comes from the performers. The labels generally haven’t much repertoire savvy, so they will follow the lead of the performers. Don’t know why there isn’t more interest, because unrecorded repertoire is very appealing for performers.

      I’ll have to look for the Wearing book. The Van Nevel recording is gorgeous. I had the privilege to interview him once, very interesting fellow. We talked about music for an hour or so and then chatted about our favorite cigars!

  4. Agree fully. Van Nevel’s Petrarch recording with Vicentino’s Laura che il verde Laura opened my ears. We [our Friday reading group] then sampled it and several others from Book V edited in CMM 260. Modern groups would usually transpose up a bit. Think it & deRore, whom we also love, really want a fine pro group with the chops of a TENET or ARTEK to record. Really love integral recordings of these books.
    Music Divine often programs DeRore Praeter rerum & the ‘mother motet’ by Josquin, and we also read the Lassus Magnificat re same.
    I’ll be singing the said Josquin 3/20&27 in Chelsea with RSS, It is a great work indeed. RSS[Hetland] also has edited DeRore Domine Deus/ Hodie Christus/ O Altitudo/ &Praeter and they are part of their rep. They, like Renaissance Chorus, don’t do secular work, however. They edit/include 11 Lassus motets in their rep. of over 300 works. Taruskin, for our Columbia Collegium concerts [c.1973]edited unpublished Lassus motets.
    Getting back to the great secular Books, grants to record really are required, in this social mileau. The way the world turns, other needs prevail.

    • Craig Zeichner Says:

      I constantly shake my head in wonder when I see what is recorded vs. what isn’t. So many of the ensembles who regularly have recordings released seem to cherry-pick repertoire. Other than the Cardinall’s Musick complete Byrd series, I can’t remember an ensemble going full-out after one composer’s work. Pity.

      • Mike N Says:

        On the bright side — and something to look forward to — I read that the Tallis Scholars is set to record the complete set of existing Josquin masses. They’ve done about three or four discs already, wonderful recordings all, and my understanding is they are planning to systematically record them all.

  5. We recorded Una musque de Buscaya c.1960 & it hadn’t been done since. Music Divine has recently programmed same.
    Quite amazing. To hear some of what is missing overall check Rob Wegman’s Princeton site: Renaissance Masses 1440-1520

    • Mike N Says:

      Mr. Rosen: Thank you! I had no idea of Rob Wegman’s site. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time there, and I’ll look forward to downloading music from it. In general, what is the quality of the performances? The few I sampled sounded very good.

      Mike

  6. They are NOT performances as such but MIDI creations. The ficta, if any is Wegman’s. He , unlike some recent scholars is very leery about re-attributing Josquin on solely creative/aesthetic grounds. You may find his links of interest. Our pioneer recording is at the website above.
    Sig

    • Mike N Says:

      Too bad, now listening more closely I see that they are indeed MIDI creations. I thought I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of free music! Wegman’s book on the crisis of early music looks very interesting — though too expensive to buy, perhaps, and not available at my local library. I’ll have to look out for a used edition.

  7. You may want to contact or Facebook Dr. Wegman.
    Incidentally, you can hear our upcoming Sunday 3/27 -3pm concert{NEW YORK TIME!} on our ‘Loft Concert Live’- left menu-at . We will do ‘Praeter’. We’d love your comment [s]on our guestbook. They will be archived as ‘videos’.

    • Mike N Says:

      I won’t be able to listen live, but if the recording is archived, I’ll definitely listen later on your website. Do I just go to http://www.renaissancechorus.org? Praeter is one of my favorite pieces — brooding and beautiful, and as intense as anything by Beethoven or Wagner.

  8. Actually go to our successor group: The Renaissance Street Singers
    Thought I’d posted this. This site is also linked to above, so can be accessed easily.
    Enjoy.
    P.S.- you may find the broadcast/venue very informal- thats how we are!- What you wont see is eating, but there will be informal open singing afterwards.- really a yearly party!

  9. See the site doesn’t get transmitted unless in the box. This should work.

  10. click on our names to get to the website!

    • Mike N Says:

      Just listened to your public performance of the excerpt of Lassus’ Tears of St Peter. Very nice! I wish we had Renaissance street singers in L.A., where I live — but there’s not a chance of that. Some things only happen in New York.

  11. Mike N Says:

    But I am excited — sometimes culture comes here. Tonight my wife and I are going to see the Tallis Scholars in their all-Victoria program in Downtown L.A.!

    • Mike N Says:

      Went to the Tallis Scholars, as planned. Absolutely beautiful. The Requiem, which I know well, took my breath away. One man in the audience was visibly sobbing (maybe for unrelated personal reasons? Though I wouldn’t blame him if it was the music). Even my wife, who in the past has found classical music concerts hard to bear, was impressed and enjoyed the music.

  12. I have just stumbled on your blog and am enjoying it very much. I happen to sing high countertenor in a brand new professional vocal ensemble in London. Continuum is made up of 12 adult male voices and its specialisaton is sacred Renaissance Spanish polyphony, performed with intensity and color, at the original and sonorous low pitch. The ensemble has a Facebook page and their first videos from their initial recording session are about to go online. I’d also add that I think a better match of artist and composer might be Alonso Lobo and El Greco. Lobo was living and working in Toledo (as maestro de capilla at the cathedral) at the same time as El Greco was living there and producing some of his finest work. Toledo is a wonderous city and both artists have captured its quality, a sort of ecstacy and darkness combined. If you don’t know it, Lobo’s “Versa est in luctum” is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance polyphony and will be featured in Continuum’s videos. The work was written for the funeral of King Philip II of Spain (1598).

    • Craig Zeichner Says:

      Richard, thanks for commenting. I’m very keen to hear what Continuum is doing. Lobo is a brilliant composer, sadly under recorded. “Versa est in luctum” does turn up on some compilations. Will Continuum’s first disc be Lobo? I’m sending you an email off-site about a project that might be interesting for you and the ensemble. All the best, Craig

  13. Richard Childress Says:

    Hi Craig, here’s another video from Continuum. It’s Vox in Rama by Bernardino de Ribera (c.1520-?), who was maestro at Avila Cathedral and was the teacher of the young Victoria. This is a new performing edition by Bruno Turner and is very probably the first time this work has been heard since the 16th century.

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