Skip to content
Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2010 An ideal Vesper, the recovered Psalms of Tomas Louis de Victoria
An ideal Vesper, the recovered Psalms of Tomas Louis de Victoria PDF Print E-mail
For more than half a century musical research has fathomed inch by inch libraries and archives looking for information and works of main (and minor) composers of past times, and it is not an everyday occurrence to discover an unpublished collection belonging to one of the greatest 16th century composers: Tomas Louis de Victoria… The Vesper Psalms were discovered as a result of an accurate study of Manoscritto Musicale 130 at the Vittorio Emanuele II National Library in Rome. Whose music was it? The find-out started following an article by musicologist Klaus Fischer who in 1975, while giving a specialised interview, concentrated his attention on a few lines at the foot of the Psalms. Are they Victoria’s? Is the music also Victoria’s? Fischer’s hypothesis and a subsequent study by Robert Stevenson (Spanish cathedral music in the Golden Age, Madrid 1992) do not resolve the problem. The source repertoires (e.g. Rism) do not conform with Victoria’s name. All the same, the hypothesis is a rather interesting one. Those lines are a kind of the Psalms’ autographic dedication to Francesco Soto de Langa. Soto is the “hidden” editor of an issue which never saw the light of day. He is most probably also the copyist of the Psalms found in ms. 130. As is common knowledge, Soto was well known in the circle of Roman composers and he had published several musical collections for the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The dedication makes an indirect reference to the Mass Hymnal published in 1592 by Ascanio and Donangeli (Missae quattuor, quinque, sex et octo vocibus). In 1592 Victoria had already departed Italy to take up the post of chapel master to Mary of Austria at the court of Madrid, yet several documents certify to some of his journeys and short stays in Rome: such as when he was in Rome for Palestrina’s funeral in 1594. Thus he could supervise (and approve) the publication.
Josep Cabré presumes in the booklet attached to the Psalms Cd, that the collection could have been dedicated to Empress Mary of Austria’s son. Proof of the good relations with the sovereign and her court lies, among other things, in the Officium defunctorum of 1603 which was written for the funeral rites of the empress, who had since some time before retired in the women’s convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid.

Little information is available on Tomas Louis de Victoria’s life. Born in Avila about 1548, the seventh of eleven children, at age ten became choirboy in the city cathedral. Between ten and eighteen he accomplished his musical apprenticeship studying, with various masters, plain chant and counterpoint and training at the keyboard. When he was nineteen years old, he had already gone to Rome to improve on his proper artistic formation. Rome was at that time the propelling centre of the counter reformation which supported the affirmation of catholic orthodoxy against Protestantism. There, Victoria frequented the religious centres where papal policy was decided: the Roman Seminary, the German College founded by the Jesuits. He also frequented the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri and several Roman churches (Sant’Appolinare, San Giacomo degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria di Montserrat) besides composing for the Papal Chapel.
His work was rather poor compared with that of his contemporaries Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso, being fully dedicated to liturgy.
In order to be able to interpret the programme it would be helpful to look at the contents of the performers’ notes. Here is our first question
: why has he indicated a quartet of solo voices instead of a choir of eight or twelve singers as was usually done at the time?... The number of singers has always been adapted to the area of the place, be it a church, circle or private chamber. The second question: why put mixed voices when the manuscript states vocibus paribus? The answer is: philology has its exemptions… purely philological .
Just one final clarification: La Colombina provides a concerto performance, which is quite different from an a cappella performance. We shall hear ten Psalms instead of five. Moreover the antiphons, chosen from those written by Victoria in honour of the Blessed Virgin, are only performed once, before the psalm, and not repeated after. All this alternates with Gregorian chant according to practice in liturgy.
Finally, an unrequested advice by the present writer: try closing your eyes, to sip with your mind time and space… We are in Rome, at the end of the 16th century, sitting in a cardinal’s hall to listen to the novel music of the greatest polyphonists of the 16th century. It is not a small privilege.

Sandro Boccardi