In 1575 Tomas Luis de Victoria was ordained to the priesthood by the last living member of the pre-Reformation English Church hierarchy - a certain Bishop Thomas Goldwell. In retrospect at least it makes a curious picture: the meeting of representatives from two very different modes of Catholicism, perhaps only a generation apart in age, but a revolution apart in style. For Victoria was born into the post- Tridentine world and his Masses and motets were to play the same role in the Spanish dominions as his mentor Palestrina's played in Rome-' to provide a consistent and vigorous corpus of new music for the Counter-Reformation Church. Much of it for instance was performed and admired in the brave new colonies of South America.
Victoria was never far from power in Spain. He returned from his twenty-year stay in Italy apparently to lead the quiet life of a priest, but his remunerative and influential position as maestro of the choir in the Madrid convent where Charles V's daughter Maria spent her old age was far from a retirement. With plentiful resources at his disposal it is no wonder that so much of his writing is characterized by a huge underlying optimism and confidence.
O quam gloriosum and O magnum mysterium are both early motets, published in 1572, and are amongst the best loved in his output. Written for the feasts of All Saints and the Circumcision respectively they both lend themselves well to adaptation into "parody" Masses. Material in O quam gloriosum for instance comes in easily delineated sections which can be lifted entire - Victoria particularly likes the motive on "quocumque ierit" which ends several sections of the Mass; he does however leave the startling first three bars of the motet completely alone. Why Victoria should have been so fond of the parody technique in general (only one of his twenty Masses is free-composed) is difficult to say - a clue may lie in the fact of his republishing many of his old works in new volumes, and he is unusual among contemporaries in having almost all of his output published in his lifetime. He was not altogether the otherworldly innocent he made out.
But Victoria was far from just a talented, functional composer. The intensity of works such as Ardens est cor meum has led to frequent comparisons with another child of the Counter-Reformation, El Greco. Adapting the words of Mary Magdalene when she discovers the tomb empty on Easter morning, it translates into a personal plea for spiritual revelation. This passionate style is also evident in Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo, a Spanish contemporary and regarded as an equal by Victoria. It was written for the funeral of Phillip II of Spain, and sets a movement from the Requiem Mass.
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