Alma redemptoris mater
is an antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is sung during Advent and until the Feast of the Purification. Victoria composed two settings of it, one for five voices first published in 1572, and another for eight voices dated 1581. This setting for two equal mixed-voice choirs makes clear reference to the antiphon plainsong in a striking beginning in which the three upper voices of the first choir fan out from the same note in successive entries, with the top part outlining the first phrase of the plainsong. The words ‘redemptoris mater’ are then set to a homophonic passage of wonderful sonority, which is succeeded by more contrapuntally conceived passages for ‘quae pervia caeli’ and ‘et stella maris’ with some reduction in the number of voices. The first part of the antiphon ends with a rich and rhythmically vigorous section for both choirs at the words ‘succurre cadenti surgere qui curat populo’. The Secunda Pars opens with a passage of extremely effective slow antiphonal declamation of the words ‘Tu quae genuisti’ followed by running quaver scales to express ‘natura mirante’. Soon after this Victoria uses to great effect one of his most telling harmonic devices, the introduction of a pair of chords not previously or subsequently employed in the piece, in this case a G minor and a C minor chord used at the words ‘virgo prius’ to underline the sanctity of the virginity of the Mother of God. The antiphon ends with a sustained passage of full double-choir writing of enormous richness and sonority.
from notes by Jon Dixon © 1994