Tomás Luis de Victoria and the Spanish ‘Nation’ in Rome
Pange lingua gloriosi à 4 Johannes Urrede (fl. 1451–ca. 1482)
Missa pro defunctis à 4 Cristobal de Morales (ca. 1500–1553)
Cum beatus Ignatius à 5 Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611)
O lux et decus hispaniae à 5 Victoria
Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae à 5
Pange lingua gloriosi (more hispano) à 4
Una hora non potuisti à 4 Victoria
Aleph. Ego vir videns à 6
Tenebrae factae sunt à 4 Victoria
Incipit Oratio Jeremiae à 8
O vos omnes à 4 Victoria
Lauda Sion salvatorem à 8 Victoria
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 7:30pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street
Sarah Bellott, Lydia Brotherton,
Shannon Canavin & Teresa Wakim, soprano
Thea Lobo & Martin Near, alto
Jason McStoots & Steven Soph, tenor
Brian Church & Ulysses Thomas, bass
Eric Rice, conductor
Notes on the Program
Although Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548–1611) is identified as a Spanish composer, it is arguably his association with Rome that has contributed most substantially to his acclaim both during his lifetime and in the present day. Until Spanish Renaissance music began to attract renewed attention in the 1980s and 1990s (spurred on in part by the quincentenary of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas), Victoria’s Spanish origins were simply mentioned as a biographical fact, and Spanish elements of his work were not identified. In part this is because such identification is difficult: first, the style of the late sixteenth century is a remarkably international one that blends the dense counterpoint favored in the Low Countries with the simple homophonic textures of Italy; second, Victoria completely understood and adopted the style of Palestrina, employing it in the service of the Roman liturgical tradition. But Victoria occasionally appropriated Spanish plainchant melodies as the basis for compositions in certain contexts, labeling some of the pieces employing these melodies more hispano (“in the Spanish manner”); both the context in which he did so and the history of the melodies he appropriated reflect the role of Spanish identity in his music and of thriving Spanish liturgical traditions in sixteenth-century Rome. Our concert presents some early manifestations of “Spanishness” in music by Johannes Urrede (fl. 1451–ca. 1482), a Flemish composer active in Spain, and Cristobal de Morales (ca. 1500–1553), who preceded Victoria as a well-known Spanish composer based in Rome. The program continues with selections from Victoria’s output, with particular emphasis on music for Holy Week. Victoria’s achievement is not only reflected in the suppleness of his ethereal counterpoint, but in the fact that he satisfied both the powerful Spanish “nation” living in Rome and other Romans who abhorred Spanish practices.
For the modern listener, the use of one plainchant melody over another in a polyphonic composition is generally of little significance. For sixteenth-century Spaniards, by contrast, it could be a fervent expression of nationalism. “Nationalism” and “plainchant” are probably not terms that are easily associated today, for we tend to think of plainchant as a monolithic, universal repertoire that was (and indeed still is) in use throughout Western Christendom. While Carolingian reforms succeeded in suppressing regional customs, in part by perpetuating the myth that Pope Gregory I (r. 590–604) received a large body of chants from the Holy Spirit (whence “Gregorian chant”), many chant “dialects” persisted in areas not under papal control. Since Spain had lived largely under Muslim rule since 711, the mere practice of Christianity often had to be kept secret, and a body of chant that preceded Carolingian reforms persisted in a mostly oral tradition in Toledo. It was this repertory, known as “Mozarabic” chant, that became a source of national pride following the end of the Christian Reconquest in 1492. Ten years later, with the blessing of the first Spanish pope, Alexander VI, celebration of the once-suppressed Mozarabic liturgy began afresh in the newly consecrated Chapel of Corpus Christi at Toledo Cathedral. But the notation in the few manuscripts that preserved Mozarabic liturgy was indecipherable, and the oral tradition was not considered reliable; as a result, many of the melodies were newly composed. These melodies were published in a series of prints during the first two decades of the sixteenth century, and these prints were transported to nearly every region where Spanish Christians were active, including the New World.
Under Alexander VI, a group of Spaniards entered the papal choir, and their particular vocal style and use of Spanish melodies in the liturgy was a source of both envy and derision on the part of other singers in the choir and throughout Rome. Among the epithets Italian and Northern singers used to describe the Spaniards was marrani, a name for Jews who had ostensibly converted to Christianity but were secretly still practicing Judaism; according to those using this epithet, the fact that the Spaniards were Jewish meant that their ancestors were present at the crucifixion, thus explaining the emotional power of their singing during Holy Week. During the course of the sixteenth century, Spaniards became an increasingly powerful presence in Rome, due in no small part to the flow of riches from the New World. Their processions on the Feast of Saint James (the patron saint of Spain) and the Feast of Corpus Christi were grand, flamboyant events that clogged the streets of Rome, adding to the resentment of Spaniards in the city.
It was into this atmosphere that Victoria entered when he arrived in Rome around 1565, having been discharged from his duties as a choirboy at Avila Cathedral after his voice had broken. He enrolled in the Jesuit Collegio Germanico as a singer, and by 1571 he was maestro di cappella there, conversing with his German pupils in Latin. Throughout his time in Rome (ca. 1565–1585), he was actively involved in charitable work as a priest, and he took these duties as seriously as his musical responsibilities. He was also routinely employed at two Spanish churches in Rome: S. Maria de Monserrato (the Aragonese church in which the two Spanish popes are buried) and S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli (Saint James of the Spaniards). Celebrations at both of these churches included use of Spanish chant melodies, suggesting that Victoria’s more hispano works were composed for these contexts. The flamboyant processions and other assertions of Spanish identity may not have been to his liking, however; in the dedication of his Missarum libri duo of 1585 to King Philip II of Spain, he expressed his desire to return to Spain to lead a quiet life as a priest. The king honored this request by naming Victoria chaplain to his sister, a position he held until his death in 1611. Although he was highly regarded in Rome, one wonders if Victoria decided that it was preferable to live in Spain with a somewhat Roman identity than to live in Rome with a Spanish one, especially given the perceptions of Spaniards during this period.
Pange lingua gloriosi à 4 (Urrede)
Johannes Wreede was born in Bruges in about 1430 and worked as a singer at the Church of Our Lady there until 1460, when it is presumed he left for Spain (Juan Urrede is the Castilian form of his name). In 1477 he was appointed singer and maestro de capilla of the Aragonese royal chapel, where he remained until 1482. Urrede’s Pange lingua gloriosi is the earliest known setting of the Spanish version of the hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The melody is heard as a cantus firmus (a pre-existent melody, presented in long notes, around which free counterpoint is composed) sung by the tenors. The counterpoint of the other voices is distinctly Franco-Flemish in style, with free-flowing ornamental passages reminiscent of the fifteenth-century chanson.
Introit and Kyrie, Missa pro defunctis à 4 (Morales)
Born in Spain and active there as a young man, Morales (ca. 1500–1553) eventually became a singer in the papal choir and published much of his music in Rome. From there and from Toledo, where he worked toward the end of his career, his music circulated widely, reaching choir books in Mexico City and Guatemala (as did Victoria’s). His setting of the Mass for the Dead or Missa pro defunctis for four voices is considered one of his most Spanish compositions. The texture of the Introit and Kyrie, presented here, is relatively simple, with minimal imitation between the voices at a short time interval. The harmony is characterized by poignant suspended dissonances: from moment to moment, one voice will remain fixed on a pitch that other voices have left behind for a different harmony; the resulting dissonance shimmers briefly before the dissonant voice joins the others on the new chord. Such dissonances are typical of all sixteenth-century liturgical music, but the simplicity of the texture is characteristically Spanish.
Cum beatus Ignatius à 5 (Victoria)
Victoria’s first collection of motets, published in 1572, consists primarily of motets for important feasts of the Temporale—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.—and relatively few motets for feasts of the Sanctorale—days commemorating the lives of specific saints. Cum beatus Ignatius, for the Feast of Saint Ignatius (October 17), is an important exception. Ignatius (ca. 50–ca. 110), Bishop of Antioch, was transported to Rome and fed to the lions in the Colloseum; description of his martyrdom is thus an especially colorful vehicle for dramatic music. With its imitative counterpoint, dramatic flourishes, and word painting (the fast, upward melismas at “rugiendi,” “roaring” are but one example), this motet is close to the Italian madrigal in style.
O lux et decus hispaniae (Victoria)
S. Giacomo delli Spagnoli is the likely context for O lux et decus Hispaniae, a motet wholly appropriate for the Feast of Saint James (25 July). The text refers to Saint James’s martyrdom as the first among the apostles as stated in Acts 12:1–2. Less clear, however, is whether James ever preached in Spain or how his remains became entombed at Compostela, the most important pilgrimage site of medieval Spain. The piece is constructed around a canon between the two soprano parts, which we have chosen to separate at opposite ends of the ensemble. The other parts are freely composed.
Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae à 5 (Victoria)
In 1585, Victoria published what may be his crowning achievement: the Officium hebdomadae sanctae (“Office of Holy Week”). Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae is the first of nine elaborate motets setting the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which were traditionally recited on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The recitations were used as the first three lessons of Matins for each of the three days (hence the nine settings) and included at least three of four elements: opening identifying texts (i.e., “Here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah”), the text of lamentation itself, the Hebrew letters that are interspersed throughout the texts (Aleph, Beth, etc.), and the concluding imperative “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.” The opening identifying text and the lamentation text are set in a style not unlike that of Morales’s Missa de profunctis: the texture is relatively simple, and these passages employ Spanish as well as Roman recitation formulas. The Hebrew letters are set more contrapuntally, and the final imperatives are generally the most dramatic. The discerning listener will notice a similarity between the opening of this motet and Urrede’s Pange lingua, the first work on the program; this reference is made even more strongly in the next piece, Victoria’s Pange lingua, which was also heard on Maundy Thursday.
Pange lingua gloriosi (more hispano) à 4 (Victoria)
Pange lingua gloriosi is a hymn for the feast of Corpus Christi, a celebration of the Catholic belief in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine of the Eucharist into the body and blood of Christ. Hymns were often set polyphonically during the Renaissance, with verses of plainchant alternating with polyphony. (Urrede’s setting of the same hymn, heard at the opening of the concert, survives in only one verse.) Victoria published settings of both the Roman and Spanish versions of the tune in his 1581 Hymni totius anni, and the Spanish version may well have been composed for use at S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli. An unusual feature of the printed “neo-Mozarabic” plainchants is the rhythmic specificity with which they are notated, specificity reflected in our performance of the chant. The opening of the first polyphonic verse (on the text “Nobis datus, nobis natus”) paraphrases Urrede’s setting of the hymn from a century earlier. Victoria’s polyphony often uses the chant melody as both a cantus firmus and as the subject of imitation. On a few occasions, Victoria matches a melodic gesture with the text’s meaning, as in “miro clausit ordine” (“he closes in a wondrous way”), which ends with a striking ornament in the soprano and subsequently the tenor.
Una hora non potuisti à 4 (Victoria)
A responsory is an elaborate plainchant that follows a scripture reading and comments on it. Una hora non potuisti is a setting of a responsory text for Maundy Thursday published in Victoria’s Officum hebdomadae sanctae. It quotes Jesus speaking to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:40–45; Lk. 22:46), and Victoria represents the frustration of the text with lively rhythms and imitation for high voices. The form of the work (ABCB) matches that of its plainchant counterpart.
Aleph. Ego vir videns à 6 (Victoria)
Aleph ego vir videns is another of Victoria’s Lamentation settings, in this case for Good Friday. Victoria has expanded to six voices and cast the motet in the plaintive Dorian mode, a substantial contrast with the Maundy Thursday works on the first half of the program. The two soprano parts lie consistently higher than they did in the Maundy Thursday works as well, and this feature adds to the emotional power of the motet.
Tenebrae factae sunt à 4 (Victoria)
Tenebrae factae sunt is another of Victoria’s responsory settings, also for Good Friday. Though it is not scored for low voices, it is traditionally sung that way in Rome, and indeed some believe that this tradition has its origins in Spanish practices. The work is one of the best demonstrations of the subtlety and tenderness with which Victoria set liturgical texts as well as his skill at suiting the music to the meaning of the words: the portions in which Jesus speaks loudly are set in a high tessitura, and the harmonies become decidedly sweeter when Jesus commends his spirit to the Father.
Incipit Oratio Jeremiae à 8 (Victoria)
Incipit Oratio Jeremiae is a setting of the final lamentation recited on Holy Saturday, the prophet’s prayer for mercy. The final imperative, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God,” is expanded to eight voices, and the final cadence features a prominent major third in the highest voice, a fairly happy-sounding end to a setting of such a dark text.
O vos omnes à 4 (Victoria)
O vos omnes is a setting of a responsory for Good Friday, but curiously is not published in his Officium hebdomadae sanctae. It is among his most famous works today.
Lauda Sion salvatorem à 8 (Victoria)
Lauda Sion salvatorem is a setting of the sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi. (Sequences are long, syllabic plainchant settings of liturgical verse, usually rhyming, that preceded the sermon in the Catholic mass.) It paraphrases the Roman plainchant melody throughout, and was probably composed for Victoria’s work at S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli, a church known for its elaborate Corpus Christi services and processions. Works for two choirs were becoming increasingly common in the late sixteenth century, and grand, polychoral music became an important feature of Baroque liturgy in the early years of the seventeenth century. Indeed, Victoria’s setting is remarkably forward-looking, with abundant syncopations, two potent meter changes (to triple at “Bone pastor” and to a slower duple for the last line), an instrumental approach to voice leading, and call-and-response homophony, all of which were hallmarks of the flamboyant polychoral style that prevailed in Venice under Giovanni Gabrieli in the 1590s.
© 2008 Eric Rice