A number of occasional pieces were written specifically to celebrate events during Philip’s reign. Instances include the Victory of Lepanto (1571) and the Holy Year declared by the Pope in 1575. There are also works that were directed more personally to the king himself. The composer responsible for many of these was Don Fernando de las Infantas who dedicated more books of music to Philip than any other composer. Born in Córdoba, a member of the lesser nobility, he was well trained in music and became a contrapuntal expert. He never held a professional position and seems to have lived comfortably on his family inheritance. He lived a great part of his life in Italy where he abandoned composition after publishing a great deal in four sets of part-books printed in 1578 and 1579. Just a few years earlier Infantas arranged to have two handsome choirbooks of his music copied by the famous Papal scribe Johannes Parvus. These books—surviving, it seems, from Philip’s library—are now in the safe-keeping of the library of the Abbey of Monserrat (MSS774 and 775). Most of the works were later published in Infantas’ printed collections, but of the few that were not Quasi stella matutina
is unique in being directed, in its specially adapted text, to the persons of the royal family.
It is likely that this lively motet for six voices was written for an occasion at San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid when the king and queen with their children were present on a Feast Day of St Jerome (9 May or 30 September). It is addressed to St Jerome, patron of the monastic order of Jeronymites (an exclusively Iberian order founded in 1373). The hymn-like text breaks off its praise for the renowned and learned Doctor of the Church and describes the Saint as ‘helper to Philip II, our true Catholic King, in his troubles’. It goes on to intercede for the queen and the royal children. It has been misunderstood as ending with sad thoughts of death, but both the music and the final words indicate joyful praise to St Jerome in a song for all present. The swinging triple rhythms to the words ‘Melos laeti canimus’ bring this unusual piece to a resounding finish. It cannot have been composed until a year or two after Philip’s marriage to Anne in 1570, and it cannot have been written into the choirbook later than 1575 because Parvus, the copyist, died in 1576. Queen Anne died in 1580.
from notes by Bruno Turner © 1998