Alonso Lobo: Versa est in luctum

Victoria isn't the only Spanish Renaissance composer represented on The Tallis Scholars' tour program. Alonso Lobo, a composer of the later Renaissance whom Victoria himself considered to be his 'equal', composed the motet Versa est in luctum in 1598, and will be performed when The Tallis Scholars visit Calgary on Tuesday 24 April at the Bella Concert Hall.


Alonso Lobo (1555-1617)

Alonso Lobo

Born in Osuna in 1555, Alonso Lobo actively composed a full generation after Tomás Luis de Victoria (read our article about Victoria's Missa pro defunctis à 6). His works include masses and motets, three Passion settings, Lamentations, psalms and hymns, as well as a Miserere for 12 voices (which has since become lost). No secular or instrumental music by Lobo is known to survive today.

Lobo's known styles range from a typically Spanish (and beautiful) blending of the Palestrinian idiom with a lively, erudite profundity to the majestic polychoral manner of Tomás Luis de Victoria. Some of his music also uses polychoral techniques, which were common in Italy around 1600, though Lobo never used more than two choirs at a time.

Lobo's legacy reaches far beyond the borders of his native Spain: in Portugal, and as far away as Mexico, for the next hundred years or more, he was considered to be one of the finest Spanish composers.

Versa est in luctum

Lobo's most famous work is the motet Versa est in luctum, which he composed upon the death of Phillip II of Spain in 1598. In Spanish liturgical tradition at the time, it was customary for a sermon to be preached at the end of the Requiem mass, before administering the last rites. In some instances, a motet was sung between the oration and the absolution. Lobo's Versa est in luctum is such a piece.

Lobo's work is for six voices, and shows the great salient features of Spanish liturgical music at the time. The composer's ideal is to intensify the meaning of the text, which was in line with the aims of the Counter-Reformation. The text vividly describes poetic imagery of heavenly harps, organs and voices in songful mourning. Out of the slow river of beautiful notes, stunning phrases sometimes emerge, or bold homophonic internal gestures divert the forward motion somewhat. The full choir is present almost throughout, and Lobo creates, with his wall of gorgeous sound, an appropriately majestic work of mourning.


Versa est in luctum cithara mea,
et organum meum in vocem flentium.
Parce mihi Domine, 
nihil enim sunt dies mei.


My harp is turned to grieving
and my flute to the voice of those who weep. 
Spare me, O Lord,
for my days are as nothing.

  • VIDEO: Listen to The Tallis Scholars' recording of Lobo's Versa est in luctum