“Es uno de los ejemplos más rotundos del genio creador de un compositor que logra una inmensa y desgarradora obra maestra mística sobre la Pasión de Jesucristo, creada puramente, pero con una sutileza infinita” concluye el maestro Jordi Savall
ICMA finalist 2022
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Tomás Luis de Victoria’s OFFICIUM HEBDOMADÆ SANCTÆ is one of the most compelling examples of creative genius in a composer, a toweringly poignant and masterpiece on the Passion of Christ, a pure but infinitely subtle creation, Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

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CD1 : 75’44
CD2 : 68’07
CD3 : 58’89



1-5.  –Pueri Hebræorum. Passio secundum Mathæum. O Domine Jesu Christe
Lectio Prima, Lectio Secunda, Lectio Tertia
30-33.     AD LAUDES. Benedictus Dominus. Miserere. Pange lingua    


21-22.     AD LAUDES. Passio secundum Joannem   
23-26.     IN ADORATIONE CRUCIS. Vere languores. Popule meus   


1-14.       LAMENTATIO JEREMIÆ PROPHETÆ                                        
15-25.     SEX TENEBRÆ RESPONSORIA                                                     
26-29.     AD LAUDES. Benedictus Dominus. Miserere. Vexilla regis                

Andrés Montilla-Acurero – Cantor

Lluís Vilamajó préparation de l’ensemble vocal

Direction : JORDI SAVALL

Enregistrement des concerts donnés les 24 et 27 juillet 2018 à la Kolliegienkirche de Salzbourg
Enregistrement, Montage et Mastering SACD : Manuel Mohino (Ars Altis)

Mysticism and Passion: an absolute masterpiece

More than 70 years ago, the sequences of Gregorian chant and polyphonic music such as that of Tomás Luis de Victoria made a profound impression on my musical experience at that time from 1949 to 1953, when I was a chorister under the direction of Joan Just in the boys’ choir of the Piarist school at Igualada, Catalonia. To have been submerged in the beauty of that music during my childhood unquestionably made a lasting impact and shaped certain aspects of my education as a chorister, and particularly my musical sensibility. The memory of those spellbinding chants also had a decisive influence on my choice to study the cello a few years later, just before I turned 15, when I was spellbound one evening at a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem.  It was after that evening of extraordinary intensity, and thanks to Joan Just, who conducted the choir of the Schola Cantorum in Igualada, that I fully realized the power of music and decided to become a musician.

There followed years of study at the Barcelona Conservatoire (diploma in violoncello in 1964), then my discovery of the viola da gamba (1965), specialist studies and periods of research in the ancient libraries of Europe and the New World, my years of study in Basel (1968-70) and teaching at the SCHOLA CANTORUM BASILIENSIS (1973-93), followed by the founding of various ensembles: HESPÈRION XX (1974), LA CAPELLA REIAL (1987) and LE CONCERT DES NATIONS (1989), with which we made numerous concert tours and recordings, and finally the creation of the record label ALIA VOX (1998). All of this led to our wide-ranging familiarity with repertories in the world of early music, and, as is the case of the Victoria recording that we present here, a moving return to my deepest roots.

The essential facts about Tomás Luis de Victoria and his OFFICIUM are splendidly discussed in the articles by Josep Maria Gregori and Rui Nery in this booklet. But let us briefly recall here that Victoria was born in 1548 in Avila, the birthplace of St. Teresa. After training as a chorister at the cathedral, at the age of seventeen he was sent to Rome to study at the Collegium Germanicum. It was at this prestigious institution, founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, that he rapidly rose to fame.

It should be noted that the level of musical excellence required at the leading cathedrals of Spain at that time, both for chapelmasters and choristers, was extremely high. By way of example, the following is a list of the tests that the great Francisco Guerrero had to take as a candidate for the position of chapelmaster at Malaga Cathedral: The candidate was required to “1) Cantar a primera vista un canto llano elegido al abrir al azar un libro de coro; 2) Interpretar ante sus oponentes, así como ante el cabildo de Málaga, el motete que hubiera compuesto después de la una en punto de la tarde del día anterior sobre un texto obligatorio; y 3) cantar un contrapunto que no se hubiese visto previamente, primero a una parte, luego a dúo y finalmente a trío.” [1) sight-sing a plainsong chosen at random from a choirbook; 2) perform before his competitors, as well as the Chapter of Malaga Cathedral, the motet he had been instructed to compose on a set text from precisely 1 p.m. the previous day, and 3) sing a previously unseen counterpoint, first as a one-part, then a duo and finally a trio.] No one who did not have a special talent, and, above all, a great gift for improvisation, could pass such tests. Francisco Guerrero, one of the greatest composers alongside Morales and Victoria, was unanimously selected.

The fact that the College where Victoria studied in Rome was under the patronage of the Church and King Philip II, as well as the success of his compositions, enabled him to publish the majority of his works during his lifetime. Paradoxically, it was after his return to Spain at the end of his life that he would encounter difficulties in publishing his final works, as we can see from a letter addressed to “His Majesty’s chaplain”, to “the Most Serene Lord Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino.” This is the passage in question: “Y se sirva V. Altª de haçerme alguna mrd (merced) para ayuda a la estampa que la que se me hiçiere agradeceré toda mi vida y suplicaré á nro S. por la de V. Altª. Etc., Madrid 10 junio, 1603.” (If Your Highness will grant me assistance in publishing, I shall be grateful to him all my life and pray to Our Lord that he grants Your Highness grace. Etc., Madrid 10 June, 1603.) A further two pressing notes written the same year reveal the urgency of his need: “Poder para cobrar del Arzobispo de Santiago los maravedises corridos de la pensión que tiene del obispado de Segovia” (Madrid, 30 septiembre, 1603) (Authority to receive from the Archbishop of Santiago the sum of maravedises corresponding to his pension from the bishopric of Segovia, Madrid, 30 September,1603); and “A Diego Fernández de Córdoba, para cobrar los maravedises corridos…de la pensión de 150 ducados que tiene de renta en cada un año sobre el obispado de Córdova” (Madrid, 1 octubre, 1603) (To Diego Fernández de Córdoba, authority to collect the sum of maravedises…corresponding to the yearly pension of 150 ducats that he receives from the diocese of Cordoba, Madrid, 1 October, 1603). In the end, far from bringing Victoria the fortune that he had modestly refused, his retirement in his home country almost reduced him to poverty.

To embark – well into the 21st century – on the performance of a great religious masterpiece composed more than 400 years ago for the celebration of the liturgical offices of its own very specific age poses a number of crucial questions and as many exceptional challenges. How are we to conceive a present-day interpretation of a composition so intimately associated with Christian worship in the Counter-Reformation, remaining faithful to the composer’s intention and the musical practice of his day, whilst at the same time ensuring that it conveys all the work’s beauty and spirituality without neglecting its liturgical purpose? What is the essential quality of a work of art which makes it possible for a piece of music composed in 1585 to continue to move and touch us deeply today? To what extent can the artistic dimension of that work of art exist independently of the liturgical context which inspired it? Can we today feel the full spiritual force and beauty of these Gregorian chants and ancient polyphonies completely independently of the liturgical purpose for which they were created? How can we, as musicians and singers of the 21st century, truly grasp the profound spiritual message and the artistic sense that Tomás Luis de Victoria conveys in this colossal masterpiece?

Ultimately, the answers to all these questions are to be found in the music; in other words, in the last analysis, it is the essence of the music itself which provides the key to unlocking its mystery. We know that music admits no duplicity, least of all the music of Victoria, and that is why the utmost purity of commitment and sensibility are required of the performers: each voice, each instrument must own the profound meaning of each melody and modulation, sharing with the other voices the absolute need to find meaning and, above all, “grace.” As La Fontaine said, “Cette grâce plus belle que la beauté” (“That grace which is more beautiful than beauty itself”) because it directly touches our soul. So before all else, we must study the original document, since any transcription is in itself an interpretation. First of all, we had to study the original edition of the collection printed at Rome in 1585 under the title OFFICIUM HEBDOMADÆ SANCTÆ, and subsequently the corresponding Gregorian antiennes, especially in the case of the Passions, where Victoria composed only some of the verses (21 verses for the St. Matthew and 14 for the St. John), corresponding to the passages in which several characters intervene.

In contrast to other pieces from the Officium, such as Tantum ergo, Vexilla regis, written in the “moro hispano”, or Spanish style, in the two Passions Victoria uses the Gregorian chant customary in the Roman tradition. We therefore based our reconstruction of the Evangelist’s and Jesus’s Gregorian parts, corresponding to the two Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John included in the Officium, on Giovanne Domenico Guidetti (JOHANNE GVIDETTO BONONIENS in the printed edition) CANTUS ECCLESIASTICUS (brilliantly performed and sung by our “cantor” and celebrant Andrés Montilla-Acurero).

Giuseppe Baini reminds us in his Memorie storico-critiche della vita et della opere di Giov. Palestrina (Rome 1828) that “Siccome poi Tommaso Lodovico da Vittoria spagnuolo nel 1585, cioè l’anno innanzi che il Guidetti pubblicasse il Passio in canto fermo, fece imprimere in Roma per Alessandro Gardano l’uffizio della settimana santa posto in musica a 4. e 5. voci; e v’inserì le parole delle turbe del passio modulate d’una maniera veramente squisita, e che non può immaginarsi migliore; cotal música, e siffatto modo di cantare il passio con le turbe in canto armonico figurato fu ben presto adottato nella nostra cappella, esempio che in appresso seguirono anche le altre basiliche di Roma.” (“After the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria in 1585, that is to say, the year before Guidetti published his Passio in canto fermo, set the Office for Holy Week to music for 4 and 5 voices, printed at Rome by Alessandro Gardano, and inserted the exquisitely and superbly modulated words of the Turbae from the Passion, the music of the Passion, including the Turbae, sung in florid chant, was soon adopted by our choir, proof that we have also followed the other basilicas in Rome.”)

At the same time, for the other pieces in the Officium, we have distributed the 14 singers available, depending on the character of each piece, usually singing a capella for the interventions with 4, 5 or 6 solo voices (similar to the coro favorito tradition) and double parts for the homophonic moments or those of great dramatic intensity (equivalent to the coro ripieno tradition). We also drew on the habitual instrumental practice in Spanish churches at that time by adding an instrumental ensemble: 4 violas da gamba, a dulcian and a violone. For all the introductions and the instrumental transitions, we have used exclusively pieces from the Officium itself, adding instruments used in ripieno for dynamic reinforcement in the pieces that require greater intensity. In 1553 the Chapter of Toledo Cathedral signed three instrumental virtuosos to 20-year contracts, with the instruction that each should choose an assistant. Similar arrangements were made at other cathedrals such as Seville, where it was noted that the presence of ministriles, or instrumentalists, during religious celebrations increased devotion. It was agreed that “sería muy útil y perfectamente compatible con las Escrituras Sagradas, hacer uso de todo tipo de música instrumental en esta catedral, […] y además, todas las demás catedrales de España, a pesar de que quizá tengan ingresos menores, emplean constantemente la música instrumental.” (Catedral de Sevilla, A.C. 1553-1554, fol. 56v). (It would be very useful and perfectly compatible with the Holy Scriptures to make use of all kinds of instrumental music at this cathedral […], moreover, all other cathedrals in Spain, even though they may have lesser means, constantly use instrumental music.)

Working closely with these absolute works of art composed by some of the great musical geniuses of all time suggests two fundamental questions: the first concerns the mystery of creation which makes the miracle of art possible, and the other addresses what an extraordinarily long time it took for the immortal quality of an absolute work of art in the field of music to be appreciated. In fact, in the case of music, we had to wait until the beginning of the 19th century for works of art in the early repertoires finally to be given recognition, thus paving the way for a true renaissance, thanks to the progressive discovery of long-forgotten works by the great composers of earlier centuries.

In a text that he presented during a lecture tour to the United States from the end of 1939 until February 1940, Stefan Zweig referred to the miracle of art as occurring “when suddenly something new is born which does not perish, does not fade like a flower, does not die like a human being, but survives for all time and remains eternal like the sky, the earth, the sea, the sun, the moon and the stars […] Every so often we are privileged to experience this miracle of something being born out of nothing and yet defying the passage of time in another sphere: that of art. We know that every year ten thousand, twenty thousand, fifty thousand books are published; we are aware that a hundred thousand pictures are painted and millions of bars of music are composed. None of that strikes us as particularly odd. The fact that books are written by writers or poets seems as natural as those books being set by typographers, printed by printers and bound by bookbinders. We think of it as just an everyday phenomenon of production, like the daily baking of bread or the manufacturing of socks or shoes. We are only astonished when, thanks to its perfection, one of those books or paintings outlives not only the period in which it was created but many others besides. In these cases, and only in these cases, do we sense that genius has been incarnated in a human being and the mystery of creation has come about in a work of art. […] It has defied the laws by which we are bound: it has conquered time itself, because while we must die and vanish without a trace, it has left traces that will never be erased. Why? Solely because it has wrought the divine act of creation in which something is born out of nothing, and the perishable becomes durable. Because in genius the most profound mystery in the world is made manifest – that of creation.”

Tomás Luis de Victoria’s OFFICIUM HEBDOMADÆ SANCTÆ is one of the most compelling examples of creative genius in a composer, a toweringly poignant and masterpiece on the Passion of Christ, a pure but infinitely subtle creation, Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Jordi Savall
Bellaterra, 3 March, 2021
Translated by Jacqueline Minett

“Es uno de los ejemplos más rotundos del genio creador de un compositor que logra una inmensa y desgarradora obra maestra mística sobre la Pasión de Jesucristo, creada puramente, pero con una sutileza infinita” concluye el maestro Jordi Savall
ICMA finalist 2022