One of the features of Guerrero’s music is the number of outstanding motets he wrote on texts praising the Virgin, to such a degree that commentators in his lifetime and beyond have been tempted to say that he had a fixation about her. His contemporaries even called him ‘El cantor de Maria’. But this is really a tribute to the power of his music, since Mary has been of central importance to most Catholic composers, even if they could not match Guerrero’s balance and serenity. Famous is Ave virgo sanctissima
, which became so popular in Guerrero’s lifetime that it was regarded as the quintessentially perfect Marian motet and used as a parody model by a host of composers, many of them Flemish. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this masterpiece is that the intense emotion is generated within the confines of a canonic structure: the two sopranos parts echo each other throughout at an eight-beat interval, yet they move so smoothly and effortlessly that it would be easy to assume that there was no complexity involved. The phrase at ‘Margarita preciosa’ (‘as precious as a pearl’) is one of the loveliest in all renaissance music.
from notes by Peter Phillips © 2005