Saturday, January 7, 2012

Victoria : Requiem - The Tallis Scholars

Last year was the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria, and it brought with it some fascinating insights into the composer's vast output. I hadn't appreciated how the developments of the baroque influenced him – he tends to be portrayed as the last composer of the Spanish golden age, a Bach-like figure whose work was the final great expression of renaissance ideals. Far from it! The man was clearly in touch with all the latest developments. I've been savouring a 10-CD box of his work from the Ensemble Ne Plus Ultra. Highly recommended!

Meanwhile, here is the Victoria we have all come to know and love: the six-voice Requiem, in a live performance by the Tallis Scholars from the 2011 Prom concerts. The requiem was composed in 1603 for the funeral rites of the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of Philip II of Spain, in whose entourage Victoria had spent several decades as a composer. It is often portrayed as a valedictory work, a final monument to the ideals of the renaissance, but frankly I think that the clear textures and highly expressive harmonies owe at least as much to the baroque æsthetic as they do to the traditions of the older generation.

My own favorite movement is the Versa est in luctum - a movement that builds up, wave upon wave of grief – My harp is tuned for lamentation and my organ into the voice of those who weep – until it finally reaches a shattering climax on the words Spare me Lord, for my days are as nothing. It is impossible, as it is with Lassus' 5-voice requiem, not to believe that this is a profound personal statement of grief. 

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