The responsories Verbum caro factum est
and Videntes stellam magi
, composed for Christmas Day and Epiphany respectively, are both scored for twelve voices. They follow a similar pattern, making much of antiphonal effects between the three choirs, and contrasted with thrilling tutti passages. In both pieces, a harp is specified as continuo instrument for the first choir, and some parts are untexted in the original, suggesting instrumental participation. The construction of the three magnificent organs in the Basilica at El Escorial was completed in 1590, and perhaps these grand triple-choir pieces may have featured all three instruments. Both works share a similar layout: Choir 1 begins with a rather gentle statement in slow notes, then Choirs 2 and 3 enter with more lively material. Thereafter, short phrases are exchanged in rhythmical, chordal blocks—a technique that was to continue to develop in 17th-century Spanish music.
from notes by Philip Cave © 2010