About Tomás Luis de Victoria
Tomás Luis de Victoria, sometimes Italianised as da Vittoria (1548 – 20 August 1611), was the most famous composer of the 16th century in Spain, and one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer, but also an accomplished organist and singer. However, he preferred the life of a composer to that of a performer. He is sometimes known as the "Spanish Palestrina" because he may have been taught by Palestrina.
Life and career
Victoria was born in Sanchidrián in the province of Ávila, Castile around 1548 and died in 1611. Victoria’s family can be traced back for generations. Not only are the names of the members in his immediate family known, but even the occupation of his grandfather. Victoria was the seventh of nine children born to Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la Concha. After his father’s death in 1557, his uncle, Juan Luis, became his guardian. He was a choirboy in Ávila Cathedral. Cathedral records state that his uncle, Juan Luis, presented Victoria’s Liber Primus to the church while reminding them that Victoria had been a brought up in the Ávila Cathedral. Because he was such an accomplished organist, many believe that he began studying the keyboard at an early age from a teacher in Ávila. Victoria most likely began studying "the classics" at St. Giles’s, a boy’s school in Ávila. This school was praised by St. Teresa and other highly regarded people of music.
After receiving a grant from Philip II in 1565, Victoria went to Rome and became cantor at the Collegium Germanicum founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. He may have studied with Palestrina around this time, though the evidence is circumstantial; certainly he was influenced by the Italian's style. For some time, beginning in 1573, Victoria held two positions. One being at the German College and the other being at the Roman Seminary. He held the positions of chapelmaster and instructor of plainsong. In 1571, he was hired at the Collegium Germanicum as a teacher and began earning his first steady income. Victoria, after Palestrina left the Roman Seminary, took over the position of maestro at the Seminary. Victoria became an ordained priest in 1574. Before this he was made a deacon, but didn’t serve as deacon as long as typical deacons before becoming a priest. In 1575, Victoria was appointed Maestro di Capella at S. Apollinare. Many church officials would ask Victoria for his opinion on appointments to cathedral positions because of his fame and knowledge. He was faithful to his position of a convent organist even after his professional debut as an organist. He did not stay in Italy, however.
In 1587 Philip II honored his desire to return to his native Spain, naming him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress María, daughter of Charles V, who had been living in retirement with her daughter Princess Margarita at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de S Clara at Madrid from 1581. In 1591, Victoria became a godfather to his brother Juan Luis’s daughter, Isabel de Victoria. Victoria worked for 24 years at Descalzas Reales. He served there for 17 years as the empress’s chaplain until her death and then as convent organist. Victoria was also being paid much more at the Descalzas Reales than he would have earned as a cathedral chapelmaster, receiving an annual income from absentee benefices from 1587-1611. When the empress Maria died in 1603, she gave three chaplaincies in the convent, with Victoria receiving one of them. According to Victoria, he never accepted any extra pay for being a chapelmaster, and he became the organist rather than the chapelmaster. Such was the esteem in which he was held that his contract allowed him frequent travel away from the convent. He was able to visit Rome in 1593 for two years, attending Palestrina's funeral in 1594. He died in 1611 in the chaplains’ residence and was buried at the convent, although his tomb has yet to be identified.
Even though Victoria is typically viewed as being the leading composer of the Roman School, the school was also heavily marked by other Spanish composers such as Morales, Guerrero, and Escobedo.
Victoria is the most significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and one of the best-regarded composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance, a genre to which he devoted himself exclusively. Victoria’s music reflected his intricate personality. In his music, the passion of Spanish mysticism and religion is expressed. Victoria was praised by Padre Martini for his melodic phrases and his joyful inventions. His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal, qualities considered by some to be lacking in the arguably more rhythmically and harmonically placid music of Palestrina. There are quite a few differences in their compositional styles, such as treatment of melody and quarter-note dissonances.
Victoria was a master at overlapping and dividing choirs with multiple parts with a gradual decreasing of rhythmic distance throughout. Not only does Victoria incorporate intricate parts for the voices, but the organ is treated almost like a soloist in many of his choral pieces. Victoria did not begin the development of psalm settings or antiphons for two choirs, but he continued and increased the popularity of such repertoire. Victoria would reissue works that had been published previously, and would include new revisions in each new issue.
The year 1572 is known as the most momentous year of Victoria’s life because he published his first book of motets Victoria wrote his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae in 1585. This collection included 37 pieces that are part of the Holy Week celebrations in the Catholic religion.
Two influences in Victoria’s life were Giovanni Maria Nanino and Luca Marenzio. Victoria admired them for their work in madrigals rather than church music. It has been speculated that Victoria took lessons from Escobedo at an early age before moving to Rome.
Victoria claimed that he composed his most creative works under his patron, His Eminence Otto Cardinal von Truchsess. However, Stevenson does not believe that he learned everything about music under Cardinal Truchsess’s patronage; Victoria would like people to believe such a fact. During the years that Victoria was devoted to Philip II, he expressed exhaustion from his compositional work. Most of the compositions that Victoria wrote that were dedicated to Cardinal Bonelli, Philip II, or Pope Gregory XIII were not compensated properly.
Stylistically his music shuns the elaborate counterpoint of many of his contemporaries, preferring simple line and homophonic textures, yet seeking rhythmic variety and sometimes including intense and surprising contrasts. His melodic writing and use of dissonance is more free than that of Palestrina; occasionally he uses intervals which are prohibited in the strict application of 16th century counterpoint, such as ascending major sixths, or even occasional diminished fourths (for example, a melodic diminished fourth occurs in a passage representing grief in his motet Sancta Maria, succurre). Victoria sometimes uses dramatic word-painting, of a kind usually found only in madrigals. Some of his sacred music uses instruments (a practice which is not uncommon in Spanish sacred music of the 16th century), and he also wrote polychoral works for more than one spatially separated group of singers, in the style of the composers of the Venetian school who were working at St. Mark's in Venice.
His most famous work, and his masterpiece, was a Requiem Mass for the Empress Maria. Also notable is the serene emotion of each of the 37 pieces that form his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae of 1585, a collection of motets and lamentations linked to the Holy Week Catholic celebrations.
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