Victoria wrote eighteen Magnificats of which sixteen were for four voices and set either the odd or the even verses of the canticle, the intervening verses being sung to plainsong. The remaining two Magnificats are both polychoral; one is for twelve voices and the other for eight voices, and both set all the verses of the canticle after an opening plainsong intonation. The eight-part Magnificat primi toni
is written on the first tone for a high choir and a low choir. From the beginning of the fifteenth century onwards Magnificats were regularly composed on the basis of eight different plainsong settings (or tones) of the words (and often composed in sets of eight). The title ‘primi toni’ means that the Magnificat is based on the first tone and uses the plainsong of the tone in the ‘alternatim’ sections (many Magnificats, like the four-part Victoria settings, were composed with alternate verses set to plainsong and polyphony) and/or makes use of its melodic figures in the polyphonic sections. Like the double-choir Salve regina
, this Magnificat alternates between fugal sections for one choir and passages of great sonority for both choirs. In the fugal sections of verses 1, 4 and 5 it draws on material from a pair of four-voice first tone Magnificats from the Gardane 1576 publication. As in the Salve regina
, the contrasts are most effective, being between the more linear style of writing in the fugal sections and the more homophonic and antiphonal style of the full sections, in which variety is obtained not only by the rapid exchanges of material between the two choirs but also by the judicious use of triple time.
from notes by Jon Dixon © 1994