All Saints’ Day is one of the seven principal feasts of the church year, and the Schola Cantorum of St. James has prepared a special Mass setting and Motet by the Spanish Renaissance composer, Tomas Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), for this week’s celebration.
Victoria is generally regarded as representing the height of 16th century Spanish music. At the same time, his fame and influence were more international in that he spent his formative adult years, from 1565 to 1587, in Rome. His fame spread throughout Europe thanks to an improved skill in printing editions of music. Victoria had many of his works printed in the new folio style, whereby the manuscripts displayed all the music together rather than in separate part-books, which had been the practice up to and during this time.
During communion, the choir will sing the choral motet, O Quam Gloriosum, first published in 1572. It is a brief expression of the composer’s talent for drama in the setting of a text for use on All Saints’ Sunday. His exquisite motets are generally short, stark, largely homophonic works that reveal the influence of Palestrina, with whom he studied. The Latin text translates as:
O how glorious is the kingdom, where all the Saints rejoice with Christ!
Dressed in white robes, they follow the Lamb wheresoever he goes. Alleluia!
The material for this motet was recast as a mass setting of the same title. This is one of the 15 of his 20 published Masses known as a “parody” Mass. The typical 15th century Mass was built around a cantus firmus, a pre-existing melody, such as a chant or other song. Usually heard in the tenor part and often moving at a slow rate, the tune was embellished as the other voices wove more florid contrapuntal lines above and below. By the 16th century, however, the “parody”, or what might more accurately be called the “imitation” Mass became very popular. In this case, rather than quote an entire melody, the composer makes use of shorter motifs or fragments, adding or removing voices from the original, or using a fragment only at the beginning of each movement.
The Missa O Quam Gloriosum was published in 1583 and was dedicated to King Philip II of Spain. The various melodic and harmonic devices used in the Mass are clearly derived from the motet. This setting is probably the most popular of all Victoria’s masses. It is relatively brief and contains moments of great brilliance and profoundly beautiful reflection.
(Sample some of the music in the Spotify window above.)