W.A. MOZART Requiem K 626
W.A. MOZART Requiem K 626

Mozart’s Requiem, notwithstanding the fragmentary form in which it has come down to us (and despite the fact that it was completed alter his death by Franz Xaver Süssmayr with some additions by Joseph Eybler) wholly bears the stamp of its creator’s genius. His conception is perceptible through the general structure of the work, and that irrespective, even, of the difference in character or quality of the parts that were completed later.

It is highly unlikely that a second-rate composer such as Süssmayr, who had never written anything worthy of note, would have been capable of finishing the Lacrimosa and composing the Sanctus, the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei entirely on his own. However, we shall never know what access Süssmayr had to the rough drafts, or whether he heard Mozart himself playthem – which would have enabled him to memorise them to a large extent.
It is necessary today to reconsider the instrumentation, taking the contributions of Joseph Eybler and Süssmayr as a starting-point, and trying to find a synthesis between these versions and what we have to the original autograph, in order to bring out the spirit of Mozart as perfectly as possible.
In our performance we have recreated as far as is feasible the conditions prevalent al the time. The soloists and the choir (reduced to twenty members) sing in Latin with the transparency and intensity that is needed for the pronunciation that was current in Vienna at the end of the 18th century. The work is played on period instruments at a pitch of 430 Hz; the orchestra consists of eighteen string instruments, nine wind instruments, organ and timpani. The trombones have the narrow mouthpiece that was in use at the time, and we also use real basset horns with five keys plus a lower register – after Theodor Lotz, who worked with Stadler, Mozart’s clarinettist, and made his instruments.
However, all this is of little importance compared to the actual interpretation: from beginning to end, it should make us feel all the warmth and fervour of the Catholic faith and trust in God’s mercy. The Requiem is a moving funeral lament and also a miraculous moment of grace, with that surprising balance between the declamatory, rhythmical force of the text and, its melodic setting, between the almost infinite flight of the polyphonic lines and its attachment to an inexorable harmonic force, between details in phrasing and contrasts in dynamics. It appears above all through that perception of movement, which makes the tempo the true heart of the music: whispering or throbbing, passion or prayer – by the juxtaposition of all these forces in one great upsurge of feeling, we attain one of the greatest messages that the human creative genius has ever produced on the mystery of death.
Death viewed as a subject for profound meditation on the meaning of life was already familiar to Mozart at a young age. This is shown in one of the letters he wrote to His ailing father in 1787 (he was then thirty-one):

“… As death, if we look at it closely, is the real aim of our lives, I have become so well acquainted in recent years with this true, perfect friend to man that not only is there no longer anything awesome about it for me, but I find the idea very soothing and comforting! and I thank my God for having granted me the good fortune to find the opportunity […] of getting to know it as the key to our true happiness. I never go to bed without thinking that, tomorrow perhaps, young as I may be, I will no longer be here.”
According to various contemporary accounts, Mozart, who normally kept his art and his personal life quite separate, was very deeply fond of certain works: we know that the quartet in the last act of Idomeneo moved him to tears; we also know that, during a rehearsal of the Requiem shortly before his death, he burst into tears on hearing the Lacrimosa.
All these things perhaps explain the extraordinary expressive force of this masterpiece: a wonderfully expounded spiritual testament to man’s profound distress faced with the mystery of death. Through this Christian liturgical text Mozart managed to express, as only he could do, all the various states of mind, from fear of the Judgement (Dies irae) to trust in God’s mercy (Kyrie), from the anxiety of useless suffering (Recordare) to confidence in another world, full of light (Luceat eis). It is a funeral lament, but more than that, it is a final prayer, imploring God’s mercy (“Be beside me at the moment of death”) which leaves us hope for a new life. Rarely has a piece of music been so strongly marked by the genius, the expression, the faith and the suffering of a human being.

Translation: Mary Pardoe

W.A. MOZART – Le Testament Symphonique
W.A. MOZART – Le Testament Symphonique

Mozart’s Symphonic Testament

Years of creative maturity, years of distress

By the middle of 1788, at the age of 32, Mozart had reached the height of his creative maturity, dominated by the last three symphonies, absolute masterpieces that he composed in a very short period of time – barely one and a half months. This extraordinary “symphonic massif” consisting of three peaks – Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, completed on 26th June, Symphony No 40 in G minor, completed on 25th July and Symphony No. 41 in C major, the “Jupiter”, dated 10th August – is unquestionably the composer’s “Symphonic Testament”. A titanic task that he carried out without any specific commission, and, moreover, in extremely precarious personal circumstances, as can be seen from the following letter, penned almost at the same time as the Symphony in G minor (K.550), which was finished on 25th July, which he sent to Michael Puchberg, a member of the Zur Wahrheit (“To Truth”) Masonic lodge, who at that time frequently responded positively to his desperate pleas for help by regularly lending him money:

“My very dear friend and brother in the Order,

Owing to great difficulties and complications, my affairs have become so beleaguered that I find myself having to raise some money on these two pawn-broker’s tickets. In the name of our friendship, I beg you to do me this kindness, but it must be immediately. Forgive me for bothering you, but you know what my circumstances are.”

It is difficult today to imagine a more brutal contrast between the unremitting distress experienced by Mozart in his daily life, particularly in the final years, and the grandeur and dazzling richness of his unique and remarkable musical inspiration. It is therefore a great honour for us to present this “Symphonic Testament” of Mozart, with the recording of his last three symphonies, performed by the orchestra of Le Concert des Nations on period instruments, fully aware of Mozart’s suffering and extreme hardships at a time and in a society that failed to grasp his true musical greatness and to provide him with the moral and financial support he needed to fully develop his incomparable genius.

It was during the process of studying and understanding Mozart’s context and creative motivations at the time of composing his last three symphonies that I realised that it was essential to delve once more into his work and the most significant events of his life during the second half of 1787 and the following years. The summer of 1788 was a period of extraordinary creativity and maturity for the composer, but it was also the moment at which his life crossed the threshold of financial difficulties and declined into the most abject poverty, a situation which constantly obliged him to enter into unsustainable debts by regularly seeking loans from his friends at the Masonic lodges of which he had been a member after being admitted to the Order on 14th December, 1784.

The impressive research carried out by H. C. Robbins Landon during the 1980s clearly confirms Mozart’s links with Freemasonry during the last years of his life, in particular the Masonic lodge Zur gekrönten Hoffnung (Crowned Hope) in Vienna. It is for this reason that we have specially chosen the anonymous painting depicting a meeting of the Crowned Hope Masonic lodge in 1790 as the cover illustration of our edition. Mozart is distinctly visible as the first figure on the right of the painting. To reinforce the visual presence of Mozart in the cover image, we have taken the liberty of replacing the illustration on the wall in the background of the painting with the unfinished portrait of the composer by his brother-in-law Joseph Lange (1789 and 1790). The allegorical painting hanging on the wall in the original (reproduced in the booklet) represents an expanse of water and a rainbow. Given that the rainbow which appeared after the Flood, is a symbol of hope in the Bible and in Masonic iconography, it must have been obvious to the initiated that the painting depicted the Crowned Hope Lodge.

These links with Freemasonry are further corroborated by the recent discovery of an authentic document in which Mozart is referred to as member

Nº 56: “Mozart Wolfgang: Kapell Meister III Degree”.

We also know that Mozart’s most important Masonic work, the Maurerische Trauermusik (K.477), was performed in 1785 at the funeral following the death of two members of that lodge – Georg August, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (who died on 6th November) and Franz, Count Esterházy von Galántha (who died on 7th November). As the count was a brother of the lodge, a funeral was held there on 17th November with the participation of an orchestral ensemble as extraordinary as it was fortuitous, including the two brothers Anton David and Vincenz Springer, who played the basset horn parts, very likely joined by Mozart’s friend Anton Stadler on the clarinet. We entirely agree with Robbins Landon when he writes: “The dense symbolism of this Masonic Funeral Music shows that Mozart was thoroughly imbued with the theories and philosophy of death and their relevance to the first degree of the Order.”[1]

Two years later, in 1787, Mozart began the year under more auspicious circumstances following the enthusiastic welcome he had been given in Prague, a city which offered him everything that Vienna had denied him: success, official support, a stage and a theatre company. But he was at a critical juncture and he turned the offer down, saying: “I belong too much to others, and too little to myself.” He needed solitude in order to compose and think. Over the following months, various factors closely linked to his personal life were to have a profound effect on him: the departure from Vienna of Nancy Storace (who had sung Suzanne in The Marriage of Figaro), thus drawing to a close the sweetest love of his life, the death of his third child, as well as that of his friend Hatzfeld, and the news (received on 4th April) of his father’s worsening state of health and his eventual death, which occurred in Wolfgang’s absence on 28th May, 1787.

It was at this time that he fraternally (in the Masonic sense) spoke to his father about the meaning of death. In a famous letter, written on 4th April 1787, Wolfgang confided in the dying Leopold: “As death (when closely considered) is the true goal of our life, I have made myself so thoroughly acquainted with this good and faithful friend of man, that not only does its image no longer alarm me, but rather it is something most peaceful and consolatory! And I thank God that He has vouchsafed to grant me the happiness, and has given me the opportunity (you understand me), to learn to see it as the key to our true felicity. I never lie down at night without thinking (young as I am) that I may be no more before the next morning.”

A month later, in the letter dated 11th May of the same year, addressed to his daughter Nannerl, Leopold Mozart voiced his concern: “Your brother is now living at 224, Landstrasse. He has given me no explanation regarding this matter. None at all! Unfortunately, I can guess the reason.” Mozart had already started to get into debt, but what were the reasons and circumstances that had led him to live beyond his means? We can only speculate on the answer to these questions.

On 29th October in Prague he performed his opera Don Giovanni, based on Tirso de Molina’s famous play, in an admirable stage version by Lorenzo Da Ponte, working to instructions from Mozart himself, who wished to give greater prominence to the secondary characters in the quartet, the mask trio, and the sextet. The sublime vision of this opera reveals Mozart as a dramatic genius on a par with Shakespeare or Molière.

In spite of his enormous financial difficulties, his creative energy, encouraged by his success in Prague was not diminished. On the contrary, after the opera he enjoyed a burst of creativity which was to culminate in the composition of his last three symphonies. We agree with Jean-Victor Hocquard, who writes: “He suggests the concept of a vast 3-part symphonic project; it is therefore appropriate not to see these three masterpieces in isolation, but to consider them as the three movements of a single, vast symphonic work.” Mozart the Freemason knew that he was not separate from the universe, and that his own personal story and human society were connected in many ways that were sometimes mysterious and sometimes evident. Like J. & B. Massin, we believe that “It was from his most intimate Erlebnis (experience) that the 1788 trilogy was born, yet it transcends the composer’s personal circumstances while remaining true to them, and the victory proclaimed in the Symphony in C major is both Mozart’s victory over poverty and solitude and the victorious future towards which humanity is progressing.”

This unity strikes us as quite evident, both in terms of performance and as a listening experience: one need only feel the naturalness and eloquence of the development of the first movement of the Symphony in G minor, performing or listening to it after the final Allegro of the Symphony in E-flat major. The same perfect continuity of musical discourse is apparent when we approach the Symphony in C major after the Finale of the Symphony in G minor Hence our proposal of the three symphonies on two CDs, with Symphonies 39 and 40 on CD1 and Symphonies 40 and 41 on CD2. (Repeating the Symphony in G minor on the second CD, enables us to listen to them one after the other, without having to change CDs).

These works, which Mozart possibly never heard performed, were not readily understood in his own day, or even by later generations. At the end of 1790, Gerber published in his Historisch-Biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler the following entry on Mozart, referring to his isolation and the difficulty of his contemporaries in understanding his work:

“Thanks to his precocious knowledge of harmony, this great master acquired such a profound and intimate familiarity with this science that it is difficult for an untrained ear to follow his compositions. Even the most seasoned audiences need to listen to his compositions several times.”

Berlioz writes of these last symphonies that they contain “Too many pointless developments to no effect, too many technical tricks”. “If one requires of music an imaginative and impassioned exaltation, sustained and taken to extremes thanks to a rhetoric in which the ‘effects’ are judiciously or obligingly tempered, then he is right”. What is distinctive about Mozart”, argues Jean-Victor Hocquard in his magnificent biography of the composer (Ed. du Seuil, Paris 1970) – “is not only that he did not contrive these effects, but rather that, having tried them, he then broke the mould. His symphonies were unparalleled, and what the maestro had done for the string quartet and quintet, he now achieves in his writing for the orchestra independently of the piano: he makes it the substance of pure poetry.” Mozart reached maturity and the peak of symphonic composition in his day at the age of 32. It was not until eleven years later (1799) that a 29-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven would follow Mozart’s lead and compose his Symphony No. 1 in C major.


In 1789 Mozart’s circumstances had deteriorated even further. But what a contrast between the creative intensity of this musical giant and his wretched and increasingly desperate financial situation, one which too often forced him to borrow money from his friends at the Masonic lodge.

In another letter to Michael Puchberg dated 12th July, 1789, he writes:

“Oh, God. Instead of thanking you, I come to you with new requests! Instead of paying off my debts, I come asking for more! If you can see into my heart, you must feel that same anguish that I am experiencing I hardly need remind you that this unfortunate illness is slowing me down with my earnings: however, I must tell you that, in spite of my miserable situation, I decided to go ahead and give subscription concerts at my house so that I can at least meet my numerous current expenses, which are considerable and   frequent; for I was absolutely convinced that I could rely on your friendly help and support; but in this respect also I have failed! Unfortunately, fate is so against me, albeit only in Vienna, that I cannot earn any money, no matter how hard I try. For two weeks now I have sent round a list for subscriptions, and the only name on it is Swieten!”

One year later, on 20th January, 1790, Mozart wrote once again to his friend Puchberg:

“If you can and will lend me a further 100 florins, you will oblige me very greatly. We are having the first instrumental rehearsal at the theatre tomorrow. Haydn is coming with me. If your business allows you to do so, and if you would like to hear the rehearsal, please come to my quarters at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, and we shall all go there together.”

Your very sincere friend.

  1. A. Mozart”

Joseph Haydn and Puchberg followed closely the birth of Così fan tutte, and Puchberg continued to lend Mozart money on the security of the composer’s fees. The premiere took place at the national theatre on 26th January, 1790. The critics’ reactions were good, and it appears that for the first time in Vienna there was unanimity concerning one of Mozart’s operas. The day after the premiere, Mozart celebrated his 34th birthday. It was to be his last full year of life; he would not see out the year 1791. Così fan tutte was performed another four times, but on 20th February Emperor Joseph II died and the theatres remained closed during the official period of mourning until 12th April. For Mozart, Joseph II’s death was a total disaster; the performances of his opera were immediately cancelled and he was unable to organise any concerts. The less immediate consequences were even more serious.

From the end of January until the end of April, he had written nothing – a state of affairs that he had not experienced since the winter of 1779-1780 at Salzburg. It was a clear sign of his depression; he had never been in such dire straits. On 14th August, 1790, he sent Puchberg an S.O.S. – the most tragic of his begging letters.

“My dear friend and brother, I was tolerably well yesterday, but I feel absolutely wretched today: I could not sleep all night because of the pain; I must have got overheated yesterday from walking so much and then I must have caught a chill without realising it. Imagine my situation! Sick and overcome with worries and anguish! Such a situation prevents a quick recovery. In a week or fortnight I shall be better off, certainly, but at present, I am destitute. Could you not help me out with a trifle? The smallest sum would be very welcome just now and for the time being you would provide relief for your true friend and brother.”

  1. A. Mozart”

As Jean and Brigitte Massin so aptly observe in their indispensable book on the life and work of Mozart (Paris 1970): “This time, Mozart had reached rock bottom. That same day, Puchberg sent him 10 florins, the most modest sum he had ever been loaned. This brought Puchberg’s loans to Mozart since those of the previous winter to a total of 510 florins, the composer’s expected fees from Così fan tutte being offered as security. The amounts of money lent by Puchberg closely reflect Mozart’s perceived social standing. In April-May, it seemed likely that Mozart would obtain a coveted position at Court, and Puchberg accordingly answered Wolfgang’s requests by sending him sums of 150 or 100 florins; but when it became clear that he could no longer hope to secure the position, the value of the loans decreased to 10 florins following Mozart’s desperate letter written in August.” Events showed that the increasing distance between the Court of the new Emperor Leopold II and Mozart was due to fear that the French Revolution, which had succeeded in toppling the monarchy of Versailles, would spread, as well as Leopold II’s growing conviction that Freemasons – and particularly those who sympathised with the Enlightenment – were in league with the French Jacobins. Mozart had written the opera The Marriage of Figaro, inspired by the Beaumarchais play of which Louis XVI had said: “For the performance of this play not to be a danger, the Bastille would have to be torn down first.” And he never made any secret of belonging to the Freemasons. Moreover, the most notable among his friends at the lodges were followers of the Enlightenment. “It was unthinkable that the musician who had praised liberty in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, equality in The Marriage of Figaro, and who would go on to raise a hymn to fraternity in The Magic Flute, would not wholeheartedly espouse the slogan “LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY!” that was already familiar to the Grand Orient Lodge of France, and today is proclaimed by revolutionaries.” “The fact that Mozart was not included on the list of the guest musicians at the coronation celebrations was not an oversight or a matter of indifference: it expressed the wish to bury him alive.” (J. & B. Massin).

Towards the end of that grim year of 1790, he received an interesting invitation from the director of the Italian Opera in London to carry out various engagements between December 1790 and June 1791. However, Mozart was not able to accept the offer. To be available at such short notice, he needed to be free of commitments, and Mozart enjoyed no such freedom. His position and his duties prevented him from travelling without making the necessary arrangements to take leave of absence. How was he to sort out such a complicated situation? How was he to find the money necessary to make the trip to England? Mozart was a prisoner of his own hardship, trapped in Vienna. The tour that he had been forced to decline was taken up by one of his closest friends. On 15th December, 1790, Joseph Haydn left Vienna to embark on a London concert tour. After Haydn’s departure, Mozart was once again left to face his financial problems alone. Projects, resolutions, realisations and all his endeavours failed to change the distressed circumstances of his household. His last winter was to prove one of his most difficult: his friend, Joseph Deiner, the owner of the “Zur silbernen Schlange” (The Silver Snake) inn, where Mozart liked to spend time in the company of other musicians, recounted the following: “In 1790, he called on the Mozarts. He found Mozart and his wife in the workroom which overlooked the Rauhensteingasse. The couple were busily dancing around the room. On asking Mozart if he was giving his wife dancing lessons, Mozart laughingly answered: ‘We are warming ourselves up, because we are cold and we can’t afford firewood.” Deiner immediately went and brought some of his own firewood, which Mozart accepted, promising to pay him back as soon as he had some money.” (Joseph Deiner, Memoirs). Ludwig Nohl, Mozart nach den Schilderungen seiner Zeitgenossen, Leipzig, 1880. 

In 1791, the Mozart family’s financial circumstances began to improve. Unlike 1790, which had been a disastrous year in which Mozart had composed no works of major importance except the two Prussian Quartets, the String Quintet in D major and his Organ Piece for a Clock – 1791 was one of Mozart’s most prolific years, notably yielding the Piano Concerto No. 27, the Six German Dances for orchestra, the Ave verum corpus, The Magic Flute, La Clemenza di Tito, the Clarinet Concerto in A, Eine kleine Freymaurer-Kantate and the greater part of the Requiem.

On 14th October, 1791, Mozart was in Vienna, and he took Salieri and the latter’s mistress, the singer Caterina Cavalieri, to a performance of The Magic Flute. In his last surviving letter, he wrote to his wife: “Both said that it is an opera worthy to be performed on the greatest occasions before the greatest of monarchs.” That same day, Emperor Leopold II, at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, received an unsigned letter from a confidant (whose handwriting he recognised), accusing Archduke Franz von Schloissnig, of plotting a revolution against him. One of the ensuing investigations mentioned one of Mozart’s principal patrons, Baron Swieten, as well as many other members of Masonic lodges, whom the Austrian government suspected of wishing to follow France’s example by establishing a constitutional monarchy. There can be little doubt that, as a prominent Freemason, Mozart must also have come under suspicion.

This terrible situation, combined with his delicate state of health and a punishingly intense work schedule, progressively took its toll on his mental and physical condition. The fatal blow came on 12th November, 1791, when a harsh sentence was handed down to Mozart following a trial in which Prince Carl Lichnowsky[2], a member of the same lodge as Mozart during the period 1784-1786, was also involved. Documents discovered by the leading Mozart scholar H. C. Robbins Landon at the Hofkammerarchiv in Vienna concerning a previously unknown court case provide the first evidence of what was probably the chief cause of the composer’s death at the age of 35. They reveal that on 12th November, 1791, Mozart was ordered to repay a debt of 1,435 florins and 32 Kreuzer, as well as 24 florins in costs, involving the embargo of half of his stipend as Imperial-Royal Court Composer and his assets going into receivership. The details of this extraordinary trial are not known, but taking into account Mozart’s extremely precarious situation, it is more than likely that the emotional and financial blow dealt by such an implacable sentence contributed to hasten the composer’s untimely demise. 24 days later, following a grave illness characterised in its later stages by kidney failure, Mozart died at 12.55 a.m. on 5th December, 1791, at the age of 35.

His Freemason brothers organised a funeral ceremony in his memory, and the funeral oration was printed by Ignaz Alberti, a member of the composer’s lodge, who had published the first libretto of The Magic Flute.

At three o’clock in the afternoon of 6th December, 1791, in the afternoon, following a funeral service in the Chapel of the Holy Cross of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Mozart’s s remains were transferred to St. Mark’s cemetery outside the city walls, where they were buried in a common grave.


“I was for some time quite beside myself over Mozart’s death;
I could not believe that Providence should so quickly have called
an irreplaceable man into the other world.”
Joseph Haydn

When Rossini was asked,
“Who was the greatest musician?” he replied, “Beethoven!”
“And Mozart?”  “Oh! He was unique!”

Two hundred years later, this judgment still holds true.




Melbourne, 28th March, 2019
Translated by Jacqueline Minett


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


J. S. Bach’s Magnificat, the choral music of Tomas Luis de Victoria, the third Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem belong to the earliest musical experiences of my childhood and teens. Those first encounters made such an impression on me and illuminated so clearly the future direction of my life, that sometimes it is as if I were still searching for those ineffable pieces of music that gave me so much joy at that time in my life.

At the age of six, when I began training as a chorister at the religious school in Igualada, I gradually discovered along with the other children the beauty of Gregorian chant and the wonderful music of Tomás Luís de Victoria and other Golden Age masters. I can also still remember as if it were yesterday the powerful impression made on me when I first listened to a recording of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat and, almost simultaneously, Bach’s third Sonata for Viola da gamba and harpsichord performed by Pau Casals on the cello and Mieczysław Horszowski at the piano (at that time I didn’t even know that it was a work for viola da gamba!) It was the end of a swelteringly hot summer, and at the age of 10 I was slowly recovering from a serious typhoid infection from which I very nearly died. During the two months of my long convalescence, the only personal happiness I enjoyed was reading a little and, above all, listening to music on my little radio all day long. I was immediately and permanently overwhelmed by the beauty of those performances and even more so by the intense emotion radiating from those old scores by Bach. After battling against serious illness, day by day I began to experience the benefits of music for both my body and my soul. It was truly staggering to realize that those powerful works, created and performed by mortal human beings, have become immortal masterpieces, thanks to their beauty and depth of emotion.

Five years later, in 1956, while listening to a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem accompanied by a string quartet at the Conservatoire in Igualada, I was so overcome by the power of the music that I made up my mind there and then to become a musician. I chose the cello and for the first time in my life I embarked on a path of self-study and work that was a source of great happiness. For nine years I studied eight hours a day, and after finishing my studies at the Conservatoire in Barcelona in 1965, I discovered the viola da gamba and fell in love with this neglected instrument. Totally fascinated by early music, I set out on my pilgrimage to the great music libraries, a journey which took me from Barcelona to Paris, London, Brussels, Bologna, Madrid, etc., and after three years of studying by myself, I was accepted to study with August Wenzinger at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. The rest is common knowledge… It is a truly miraculous moment when you realize that you have found your way and a home in life. Mark Twain was right when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”, because from that moment on, life becomes the most wonderful and stimulating experience.

Could it be that adult life is just a quest for the happiness we felt when we were pure, innocent children? Making music is also about seeking and developing a particular way of life… A life that can only blossom through seeking and sharing beauty and happiness.

This reminds me of the wild strawberries in a beautiful Zen story: “A man was calmly walking in the forest when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to chase him. He ran and came to a precipice and started to climb down; he thought he was safe, but when he looked at the bottom of the precipice, he saw that there was another tiger waiting there. He paused, not knowing what to do. Then suddenly, seeing some wild strawberries growing near him, he picked them and began to eat them, saying to himself: How delicious these wild strawberries are!”

The wild strawberries of the story may be the work we are passionate about, or anything that we decide to do with relish and concentration: singing, working in the garden, writing, mountain climbing, playing a piece of music, or listening to J. S. Bach’s Magnificat… In other words, it is knowing how to find happiness in whatever we do, and if we do it well, then all the tigers, both those lurking within us and those we imagine to be outside us, vanish. And then life begins to be much more beautiful.


Cuba, Lisbon and Bellaterra, Autumn 2014

Translated by Jacqueline Minett


In 1987, after 13 years of intense research, concerts and recordings with the ensemble Hespèrion XX, the decision to send our children to school in Catalonia led to us spending more time there and gave us the opportunity to contact and select various Romance language-speaking singers from Catalonia, Spain and other countries. Convinced of the defining influence that a country’s cultural roots and traditions inevitably have on the expression of its musical language, Montserrat Figueras and I founded La Capella Reial with the aim of creating one of the first vocal ensembles devoted exclusively to the performance of Golden Age music according to historical principles and consisting exclusively of Hispanic and Latin voices.

Taking as our model the famous medieval “Royal Chapels” which inspired the great masterpieces of religious and secular music of the Iberian Peninsula, this new “Capella Reial”, which in 1990 took the name La Capella Reial de Catalunya thanks to the sponsorship of the Catalan government, was the fruit of many years of research and performance in the early music field. Together with Hespèrion XX – founded in 1974 – and with the primary objective of deepening and broadening research into the specific characteristics of Hispanic and European vocal polyphony before 1800, the ensemble has been distinguished by an approach to performance which combines attention to the quality of the vocal sound and its appropriateness to the style of the period, as well as the declamation and expressive projection of the poetic text, and above all a respect for the deeper spiritual and artistic dimension of each and every work.

Under my direction, and with Montserrat’s close artistic collaboration, the ensemble rapidly built up an intense concert and recording activity, regularly appearing at the world’s major early music festivals from the time it was founded. Its repertory and principal recordings, collected in more than thirty CDs, range from the Cantigas of Alfonso X the Wise and El Llibre Vermell de Montserrat to Mozart’s Requiem, and include the Golden Age Cancioneros and the great composers of the Catalan, Spanish and European Renaissance and Baroque, such as Mateu Fletxa, Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero, Tomás Luís de Victoria, Joan Cererols, Claudio Monteverdi and H.I.F. von Biber, as well as the Sephardic song repertory, the music from the Mystery Play of Elx, the ballads from Cervantes’s Don Quixote and 15th century Hispanic music from the age of Queen Isabella I of Castile and Christopher Columbus.

Some of the highlights of the ensemble over the past twenty-five years have been its participation in the soundtrack of Jacques Rivette’s film Jeanne La Pucelle about the life of Joan of Arc, as well as the operas Una cosa rara by Vicent Martín i Soler, and Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, staged at the Liceu opera house in Barcelona and at leading European concert halls and opera houses such as the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Palais des Arts in Brussels and the Bordeaux Opera House. In 2007 La Capella Reial de Catalunya performed Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Vespro della la Beata Vergine during the Edinburgh Festival. Over the last few years the singers of La Capella Reial have partcipated in a number of major recording projects, including The Route to the Orient, on the life of St Francis Xavier, The Forgotten Kingdom, on the epic struggle and extermination of the Cathars, the Grammy Award winning The Borgia Dynasty, on the famous members of that Renaissance family, Joan of Arc, Erasmus of Rotterdam and, more recently, the DVD of Bach’s B minor Mass, recorded at the Fontfroide Festival in 2011.

We are delighted to celebrate the ensemble’s 25th anniversary in a creative new way by launching our Vocal Research and Performance Academies designed for young professional singers, which we hope to be able to offer regularly once or twice a year. This intense pedagogical work is carried out in conjunction with the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC), Barcelona City Council, the European Union, Fundació Banc Sabadell and our own foundation, Centre Internacional de Música Antiga (CIMA). Our forthcoming projects include J.S. Bach’s Magnificat in D, G.F. Handel’s Jubilate, Vivaldi’s Gloria, C.P.E. Bach’s Oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste, 16th and 17th century Christmas choral music, and the cycles War & Peace I: 714-1714 and War & Peace II: 1714-2014. At the same time we shall continue to perform around the world emblematic projects such as Jerusalem and Pro·Pacem, veritable historico-musical “oratorios” advocating Peace and intercultural dialogue.

In Memoriam Montserrat Figueras
Bellaterra, February 2013

Translated by Jacqueline Minett