Victoria and his 'Missa pro defunctis à 6'

On this concert tour, the Tallis Scholars will perform two movements from the 1603 setting of Tomas Luis de Victoria's Missa pro defunctis (i.e., Mass of the Dead, or Requiem Mass). This six-voice setting of Victoria's will bookend the second half: first with the 'Requiem aeternam' and then with the 'Libera me'.

BIOGRAPHY

 Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611

Tomás Luis de Victoria
(c.1548-1611

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) is one of the most significant Spanish composers of the Reformation. He was one of the greatest composers of church music of his day in Europe, who has been admired above all for the intensity of some of his motets and of his Offices for the Dead and for Holy Week.

Victoria’s classical education likely began at S Gil, a school for boys founded at Avila by the Jesuits in 1554. The school enjoyed a good reputation from the beginning. After his voice had broken, Victoria was sent to the Jesuit Collegio Germanico, Rome, which had been founded in 1552.

Victoria not only left far less music than either Palestrina or Lassus but also limited himself to setting Latin sacred texts. He had a habit of reissuing works that he had already published: more than half the contents of five of his 11 prints had appeared in earlier prints, and of prints subsequent to his first, only the first consists almost entirely of newly published music. Moreover, unlike Palestrina, he succeeded in publishing, usually in a luxurious format, nearly the whole of what is now recognized as his authentic oeuvre. Thus the first seven volumes of the eight-volume complete edition of 1902–13 consist wholly of music published during his lifetime.

MISSA PRO DEFUNCTIS À 6

In 1603, the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of Philip II, died. It was the duty of her chaplain and choirmaster, Victoria, to provide music for her funeral rites. In doing so, Victoria was writing for the twelve singing priests and four boys who comprised the singers of the Royal Convent, a relatively lavish set-up that enabled polyphony in many parts.

Accordingly, this Missa pro Defunctis is in six parts, with divided trebles and tenors. After the intonation Requiem aeternam, given in the treble part, the polyphony unfolds slowly and majestically around the ancient plainchant melody. The plainchant acts as an anchor, a throughline which gives the piece as a whole an awesome solidity. And to end the concert, the closing cry of 'Libera Me'. The ancient words – angry, fearful, finally hopeful – remain deeply relevant in a world which has yet to eradicate the threat of armed conflict.

  • VIDEO: Victoria's Missa pro defunctis à 6. While it's nice to hear this recording, imagine how this will sound in the glorious acoustic of the Bella Concert Hall at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts!