No 01: Amicus meus osculi me
No 02: Judas mercator pessimus
No 03: Unus ex discipulis meis
No 04: Eram quasi agnus innocens
No 05: Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum
No 06: Seniores populi consilium fecerunt
No 07: Tamquam ad latronem existis
No 08: Tenebrae factae sunt
No 09: Animam meam dilectam
No 10: Tradiderunt me in manus impiorum
No 11: Jesum tradidit impius summis principibus sacerdotum
No 12: Caligaverunt oculi mei a fletu meo
No 13: Recessit pastor noster
No 14: O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam
No 15: Ecce quomodo moritur
No 16: Astiterunt reges terrae
No 17: Aestimatus sum
No 18: Sepulto Domino
Within Victoria’s great monument of music for the ceremonies of the Passio et mors Domini nostri Iesu Christi there are two outstanding and quite different sets of specifically liturgical pieces—nine Lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, and eighteen Responsories, all for the services called Tenebrae (Matins followed by Lauds) on Maundy Thursday (Feria V in Coena Domini), Good Friday (Feria VI in Parasceve) and Holy Saturday (Sabbato Sancto). It is the set of eighteen Responsories that has acquired a musical life of its own in modern times, divorced from the liturgy and context in which it was conceived. But all great music rapidly bids farewell to its parent, the vessel and mould through which it passed, and takes on a life of its own.
The original context of Tenebrae, now largely abandoned in the debasement of liturgy by a de-spiritualized Church, was a sombre celebration of Matins divided into three Nocturns on each of the three days. In the first Nocturn of each day three Lamentations were alternated with three Responsories. Victoria set the Lamentations but not the Responsories. In the second and third Nocturns he did the opposite. The Lessons were to be recited and the Responsories Victoria put into strictly ordered polyphony, observing every correct repeat prescribed by the rubrics. Thus Victoria wrote six Responsories for each of the three days. In this respect he did the same as his great contemporary Lassus who wrote his eighteen in the 1580s. Lassus also published his set of Lamentations in 1585.
The plan of the Responsory texts and of the music is always ABCB with an additional repeat in the third of each group, thus ABCBAB. The section C is always for fewer voices—three parts instead of four—except in the very first where the versicle (C) is for just two. In Victoria’s orderly plan the first and third of each group of three Responsories are for a choir of SATB voices, but the middle one of each group is for SSAT. All the music of the eighteen Responsories is in the high clefs of Renaissance notation. Although there is therefore a strong argument for downward transposition in performance, modern choirs, including Westminster Cathedral’s, usually sing them as notated at modern pitch. A Roman tradition dating from the eighteenth century is followed at Westminster Cathedral in performing Tenebrae factae sunt and Aestimatus sum an octave lower, sung by tenors and basses instead of SSAT.
The texts of the Tenebrae Responsories trace the events of the Passion and Death of Christ. They are primitive centonizations from the Gospels with additions of unknown authorship dating probably from the fourth century. They do not always seem to make perfect sense, but somehow this enhances the austere power of it all, words and music.
In listening to this music in our modern way, as a suite of pieces set in great unity by a magisterial hand, we should reflect upon its conception and first purpose. Imagine a great church in darkness but for a massive stand with fifteen candles. Imagine how, as the Lamentations, Responsories, readings, psalms and canticles are chanted by priests, choirmen and boys, glorious polyphony punctuating the ancient plainchant, the candles are gradually extinguished until the last is hidden as the brief office of Lauds is concluded after the long Matins. This was the Tenebrae of Holy Week, often sung in recent centuries during the preceding evenings rather than in the small hours of the last days of Holy Week.
Victoria would surely be sad at the loss of the great ceremonies, of a liturgy that had been revised and perfected in his own lifetime. He might justifiably be proud that his own contribution could still move hearts and stimulate minds four centuries later. Victoria’s balance of formality and expression, his perfect setting and propulsion of the Latin words, still excite our admiration.
from notes by Bruno Turner © 1987