Carlos Mena & Juan Carlos Rivera
Recorded 3-6 October 2003 at Iglesia Parroquial Sant Cornelia de Collbato, Bacelona, Spain
Et Jesum presents motets, antiphons, and mass sections by the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, arranged for countertenor voice and accompanying stringed instrument. Both the laud (the Spanish version of the lute) and the more guitar-like vihuela are used by accompanist Juan Carlos Rivera. Rivera and countertenor Carlos Mena, a youthful alumnus of the Savall school, augment arrangements of Victoria's day with efforts of their own in a similar vein, and it would take a deep specialist indeed to pick out the 400-year-old ones. Victoria's music was popular all over Europe, and arrangements of his choral music appeared in numerous anthologies of the time, intended for domestic music-making. Of course, those anthologies would have included music by other composers as well; performing 23 Victoria compositions in a row is not really "authentic." For the casual listener it's a bit much, but for devotees of the dark-hued, detailed, and hypnotically contemplative music of this devotional master of the Counter Reformation, this is a beautifully executed performance and a very productive way of approaching Victoria. Mena is a lush countertenor who can put a remarkable variety of tension points into a drawn-out long note, and Rivera's accompaniments are breathtakingly quiet and subtle. The use of the laud contradicts the traditional view that lutes were avoided in Renaissance Spain because of their Arabic associations, but is fully in line with the existence of Victoria lute arrangements originating in other countries. Several pieces are performed in solo laud or vihuela intabulations. Harmonia Mundi's engineers have notched a major accomplishment here, leaving in just enough performer breathing to give the music an almost tactile sense.
All Music Guide
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Tomas Luis de Victoria
(Avila 1548 - Madrid 1611)
In about 1567 a young man from Avila of some nineteen years of age, Tomas Luis de Victoria, was admitted into the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, with a view to training for the priesthood. The Collegium had been founded by Ignacio de Loyola for the express purpose of preparing the German priests required to face up to the growing Lutheran heresy. It was being run by the Jesuits. It is likely that Victoria, born in 1548, would have studied in the Jesuit College of San Gil, in Avila, and lor that reason would have chosen the Roman institution to continue his studies. However, he had served his musical apprenticeship as a chorister in Avila Cathedral with the maestros Bernardino de Ribera and Juan Navarro. The many Spanish musicians who made the journey to Rome during the sixteenth century - Juan del Encina, Cristobal de Morales, Bartolome de Escobedo being among them - went there not so much to study but to demonstrate their abilities and to seek positions of work as well as ecclesiastical benefices. Although still very young, Victoria must have arrived with his musical training almost complete, because only a few years later he was in a position to issue his first important collection: Motecta que partiun quaternis, partiun quitius, alia jenid, alia octonis vocibus concinuntur (Venice, Antonio Gardano, 1572). Some of his best-known works are to be found in this collection, pieces which would frequently be reprinted during the course of his life.
For eleven years Victoria carried out musical duties at various locations in Rome: Collegium Germanicum, Seminario Romano (succeeding Palestrina as maestro de capilla), the Church of Santa Maria de Montserrat, the Church of Santiago (San Giacomo degli Spagnoli) and the Church of San Apollinare. In spite of this continual connection with ecclesiastical intuitions, it was not until 1575 that he was ordained. This had to be done not without a certain amount of haste, because amongst the minor and major religious orders only a few months (from March to August) were allowed for this purpose, when the rules of the Council of Trent would expect several years for the process. From that time on Victoria began to enjoy benefices, granted by the Pope, proceeding from the dioceses of Leon, Zamora, Plasencia and Osma, which gave him a level of financial independence that enabled him to cease working as a salaried musician. Thus in 1578 he was able to enter to part of the Congregation of the Oratory, a 'clerical society' of secular priests, recently founded by Felipe Neri. The Congregation was very different from traditional religious orders, in that it did not allow its members to take the traditional vows espoused by religious orders; on the contrary, it anticipated that they should be financially independent. For the seven years which Victoria lived in the Oratory, he had printed at his own cost a number of editions which can be counted among the most luxurious of the time. It has even been mentioned that Palestrina was envious of the exquisite presentation of some of these volumes. These consisted of masses, Magnificats, hymns as well as the Officium Hebdomadac Sanctae (1585), in many people's opinion Victoria's greatest work.
In addition to paying for the editions from his own pocket, Victoria took time to attend very closely to the distribution of his works. Several of his letters to cathedrals in Spain have survived - and even to those in South America - letters which accompanied the sending out of his books and which solicited a just remuneration, to match their quality. In such a manner Victoria's music became known and valued in Spain from very early on. On the other hand, nor did Victoria fail to neglect seeking the attention of powerful figures - cardinals, popes, princes or kings - from whom he hoped to receive favours. It is known that Felipe II was as interested in books as in music, for which he was to receive with special approval the dedication of the Missarum libri duo (1583) in which Victoria indicated his desire to return to Spain. Certainly Felipe II had plenty to do to with seeing Victoria being nominated as chaplain to the monarch's sister, the empress Maria - a central figure in the House of: Austria, on account of being daughter, wife and mother of emperors. The empress was by now living in retirement in the Convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Contrary to what is often stated, Victoria never became the maestro de capilla of this institution - the names of Julian Bonifaz, Antonio Bocchio and Antonio Fernandez de la Alameda are listed for these years. Instead he served only as the empress's personal chaplain from 1587, becoming organist after her death in 1603. Such a situation provided him with a remarkable freedom of movement to attend to the tasks involved with composition and publishing (and he made another journey to Rome), whereas the constant obligations involved in being a maestro de capilla would have tied him down much more. In these years he declined offers to take up the teaching of cathedral chapels as important as at Sevilla or Zaragoza. Frequently these rejections been interpreted as being the consequence of the musician's desire to dedicate himself to prayer and to contemplation, from which would then flow his music like some kind of mystic emanation. Victoria's being born in Avila, like Juan de la Cruz and Teresa de Jesus, has encouraged such a reading and has made it almost impossible to avoid the epithet of "mysticism" being applied to his music. Nonetheless the vast financial documentation which he has left, would no doubt have had the effect of converting him into the mystic with the greatest expertise in money matters. Added to that those in a good position to understand Spanish mysticism of that period have expressed their doubts on the question since the typical stance of the mystics was to consider that music - any kind of music, but especially the more beautiful it was - as a sensual danger in the soul's journey towards perfection. It is known that Juan de la Cruz considered the best music to be "musica callada" ('secret' or 'quiet' music), whilst for Miguel de Molinos (a mystic condemned by the Inquisition) the only route possible was through silence.
From 1587 until his death on August 27, 1611 Victoria lived in Madrid, except for his one brief journey to Rome to deal with publishing matters. While in Venice, Milan and Dilingen new editions of his works were being put out, in Madrid he managed to publish his two last collections, investing a good proportion of his own money in them. His final composition, the Officium Defunctorum (1605), has become especially famous, being written for the funeral exequies of his patroness, the empress.
Among the composers of his time Victoria holds a singular position in having solely composed liturgical music set to Latin texts. For this reason, perhaps, the interpretation of his works has remained the province of choirs and vocal ensembles. Nonetheless we know that Victoria was a pioneer in the use of instruments, such as the organ for the purpose of accompanying, or concertante instruments, such as were typically played by ministriles in Spanish cathedrals: corneta, chimiria or shawm, sackbut and bajon. The musical practice in his time, however, was even more wide-ranging and as a consequence transcriptions of Victoria's music for keyboard or plucked strings instruments are amongst those that have been preserved. Its seems logical that a church organist would adapt the vocal polyphony which would be performed in his own musical environment, but it can seem strange that players of instruments, such as the lute or vihuela, might also do the same. However, throughout the sixteenth century a significant tradition of this practice was in existence; good examples being a number of vihuela books published in Spain, which include transcriptions and glossas on numerous religious vocal works (and even complete masses) by Josquin, Morales, Gombert, Flecha, Guerrero and others of the best composers of the time. For plucked string instrumentalists this would have been the method by which they 'appropriated' the best music then being written, allowing them to recreate for domestic practice what, in principle, was reserved for powerful institutions and settings. Something very similar to what happened to symphonic music and opera through the piano in the nineteenth century.
The adaptations on the present recording have three different points of origin. The oldest source is the Florilegium omnis fere generis cantionum suavissimarum ad testudinis tabulaturam accommodatarum, longe iucundissimum (Cologne, 1594) by Adrian Denss, a Dutch lutenist about whom there is precious little extant information. His work consists of an anthology which brings together 85 transcriptions of vocal pieces with 62 lute works by Denss himself. The volume commences, no less, with two motets by Victoria: O quam glo-riodum and Domine non sum dignus, undoubted signs of the prestige with which the composer from Avila was held in Germany. The left-hand pages of this work present the Cantus and Bassus voices in normal notation, while on the right-hand pages, and in inverted position, appear the lute part using the French tablature system of letters. The printer's intention was to facilitate the reading by two singers and an instrumental player whilst sat opposite each other around a table. However, the excessive ornamentation of the lute part makes it inadvisable to attempt a performance where the voices can keep in tune with the instrument, owing to the frictions which are produced between them.
The criterion followed for the second source is very different. This consists of a collection of manuscripts written using Italian cifra as preserved in the British Library (Add. 29246, 29247 and 31992) and copied at a date subsequent to 1611. Among the composers gathered together here figure Byrd, Tallis, Marenzio, de Monte, Palestrina and other important polyphonic writers. Tomas Luis de Victoria is represented by the motets Senex puerum portabat and Ne timeas, Maria, the antiphons Alma Redemptoris Mater (appearing in two transcriptions), the Salve Regina a 5 and Et Iesum, sexta pard of the Salve Regina a 8. In the lute cifra the copyist has not included the highest voice. This was most likely copied into a separate book, and the music for it was surely meant to be sung. The instrumental writing is much simpler, without the overwrought ornamentation of Denss. Some notes which break up contrapuntal imitative designs are occasionally eliminated, whilst other notes are added where they reinforce certain chords. It is noticeable how evident the harmonic notion of the chord was by this time and that at certain points the lute takes on the role of accompanist rather than just being in dialogue.
Both collections are nothing more than examples of the methods by which instrumentalists of that period used to treat vocal polyphony so as to adapt it to their instruments. Following the example set by them the performers on this recording have produced new adaptations, making a selection from the oeuvre of Victoria according to their own preferences. This is a perfectly legitimate option; one that is even obligatory for those who are seeking to go beyond a mere reading and reproduction of the old documents. This is not a question of inventing something new, but simply of actively recreating a performing practice characteristic to that time. In this way the music of Victoria appears to us with some different colours to those which come through in typical vocal performances, such as when the lighting for a painting is altered. The music comes forward - with such elements - with an ambience which is more intimate, an approach which has a chamber or domestic music feel to it, and one has to recognise that one does not feel that anything is wrong, because - as has been noted by Robert Stevenson - one appreciates Victoria more for his miniatures (motets and responsories) than for his grand canvases (masses and great antiphons). Victoria's aesthetic can be defined as mannerist because of the exquisite care with which he imbues the details. Each phrase and almost every word of the text find their immediate correspondence in the musical writing, sometimes in a clear-cut way, whilst at other times the relationship may seem less obvious. There are obvious details such as the duet at the start of Duo Seraphim, the trio from its second part, Tres sunt, and the ternary rhythm used in the final phrase at et hi tres unun sunt, but this playing with the number of voices involved can also be traced in other passages from the same motet. In the same way the use of different writing styles is not gratuitous: for example, in the motet Doctor bonus the passage aspiciens a longe is sung with a large melisma, but following the word dixit: a silence is introduced in the four voices, preparing for the exclamation Salve crux. In this way, homorhythm (where all parts move together in the same rhythm) and imitation are not only techniques of writing, but also expressive resources in their own right. In analyzing the music of Victoria one finds musical coincidences involving quite different works, owing to the fact that in the mind of the composer certain similar images generate similar musical expressions: for example, the music for the phrase O beata Virgo in the Christmas motet 0 magnum mysterium is identical to that used in the phrase sustinere Regem of the Good Friday motet Vere languored (not included here), drawing on the idea that the Virgin as much as the Cross were "worthy of supporting" the body of Christ. The oeuvre of Victoria is thus interwoven with a network of numerous internal relations that provide it with a strong sense of unity, setting his style apart from all the other composers of his generation. With all propriety one could apply to Victoria the same title of "musician-poet" which Albert Schweitzer bestowed upon Johann Sebastian Bach.
- Pepe Rey