My record collection includes Requiems composed by Mozart, Verdi, Fauré and Victoria.
“Victoria!” those of you who are not into classical music might say,
Of course, if you are anything like some of the ‘Big Brother’ contestants, you probably do not know who Verdi or Fauré are either but then you are probably not reading this!
Tomás Luis de Victoria, to give him his full name, was a Spanish composer. He was born in Ávila in 1548 and at an early age he was sent to Rome by King Phillip II to prepare for holy orders. Whilst there, he studied music and became choirmaster at the German College in the city.
In 1576, he became chaplain to the pious dowager Empress María, the sister of King Philip, and they both returned to Madrid – to the convent of Descalzas Reales – in 1583. Victoria took on the role of choirmaster at the convent which he continued until his death in 1611.
He wrote only religious music, which is not surprising considering what a devout Christian he was. His works included the ‘Officium Hebdonadae’ (1585), lots of motets and masses and ‘Officium Defunctorum’, the Requiem Mass that he composed for the funeral of Empress María in 1603. Another excellent work, which is ideal to celebrate Christmas, is ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ (1572) – the ‘Hallelujah’ from it is a particularly inspiring piece of music.
Victoria is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 16th century along with Giovanni da Palestrina, Orlando de Lassus, and William Byrd. He was certainly the most significant Spanish composer of sacred music in the late Renaissance. Some critics rate his compositions greater than Palestrina who he allegedly studied with whilst in Rome. However, the biggest influence on Tomás Luis de Victoria is said to be Saint Theresa of his hometown of Ávila, which is probably why he was such a devout Christian.