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Music to illustrate the Golden Age: a selection of motets from sixteenth-century Spain culminating in Alonso Lobo’s great funerary ode for Philip II, Versa est in luctum.
Please note: This album was briefly available on the AimHigher / DeMontfort Music label in 2019.
Bernardino de Ribera’s first major position was as maestro at Ávila Cathedral. Among his charges in the choir there were the young Tomás Luis de Victoria and Sebastián de Vivanco. Ribera went on to become maestro at Toledo Cathedral and then at Murcia Cathedral, where he had sung as a boy when his own father had been maestro. The six-part Dimitte me ergo seems on the surface to belie its desolate text, the music being written in a major mode. However, there is a tender sensitivity in the sparingly crafted lines, and at ‘ad terram tenebrosam’ the voices descend into the silent void.
Cristóbal de Morales was the most influential Spanish composer of his time, and a sign of the esteem in which he was held is demonstrated by the fact that Guerrero, Palestrina and Victoria all wrote works based on his own. Born in Seville, he was maestro at Ávila, then at Plasencia Cathedral, before departing for Rome where he sang in the Papal choir for ten years. On returning to Spain, he became maestro at Toledo before moving to his final position as maestro at Málaga Cathedral. Peccantem me quotidie is a powerfully vivid setting of a penitential text containing brief moments of polyphonic writing but ultimately always returning to earthbound homophonic movement. The steady descent of the parts at ‘in inferno’ is contrasted with the freely rising quavers at ‘et salva me’.
Melchor Robledo sang at the Royal Chapel in Granada before being appointed maestro de capilla at Tarragona Cathedral, and subsequently at Zaragoza. This extensive setting of the Salve regina alternates polyphony with the solemn ‘Salve’ chant, using the version in common usage in Spain during the sixteenth century, here taken from Luis de Villafranca’s plainsong instruction book, published in Seville in 1565. The two outer polyphonic sections are in six parts, while the inner section (track 9) uses just the four upper parts. Robledo’s approach to the harmonic contradictions that sometimes arise as a result of the modality is to allow space for both, giving rise occasionally to distinctive and colourful moments.
Juan Esquivel—or Esquivel [de] Barahona as he was sometimes known, in accordance with the Spanish custom of adding his mother’s family name—was prebendary and chapelmaster at the Cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo, where he had been a chorister as a child. For much of his career, his patron was Don Pedro Ponce de León, the Dominican Bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo. Esquivel based a number of parody Masses on motets by Guerrero, who was clearly a respected influence. Ego sum panis vivus is a concise yet beautifully rendered setting of a Corpus Christi text, concluding with a joyful ‘Alleluia’.
In addition to singing together as boys in the choir at Ávila, Sebastián de Vivanco and Tomás Luis de Victoria both went on to the seminary. Vivanco held three cathedral positions: at Segovia, Ávila and finally Salamanca. It is interesting to note that when a statue of Saint Teresa of Ávila was commissioned during the nineteenth century by the people of Ávila to mark her 300th anniversary, the names of other historical Ávilans of note were inscribed on the pedestal. Vivanco, not Victoria, was the only musician included, giving us a sense of the esteem in which he was still held. Dulcissima Maria is a highly expressive motet in honour of Our Lady.
Following his choristership at Ávila Cathedral, Victoria later travelled to Rome to study for the priesthood. After ordination, he lived for a time with St Philip Neri, forming a lasting relationship with St Philip’s Oratory. After some years in Rome, he returned to his native Spain as chaplain to King Philip II’s sister, the Empress María, at the Descalzas Reales in Madrid where he was also chapelmaster. Of the two settings of the ‘Hail Mary’ accredited to Victoria, no Renaissance sources exist of the popular Ave Maria a 4, so we cannot be confident of its authenticity, despite it commonly being ascribed to the composer. The Ave Maria a 8, certainly by Victoria, sets an extended version of the text. The double choirs, initially deployed antiphonally, combine to create rich and sonorous textures. O quam gloriosum, a motet for All Saints, was written during Victoria’s time in Rome, when he was organist at the Aragonese church, Santa Maria di Monserrato. Famed for its verve and drive, this popular motet’s unrelenting energy pauses only briefly at ‘amicti stolis albis’ as the righteous are clothed for heaven.
Alonso Lobo began his musical career as a chorister and later as assistant to Guerrero at Seville Cathedral. He was then appointed maestro at Toledo Cathedral before returning to serve in the same position at Seville for the remainder of his years. Versa est in luctum was written upon the death of Philip II and is considered to be one of the masterworks of the period—a fitting tribute to a Catholic king and patron of this golden era. And perhaps O quam suavis est, a ravishing six-part setting of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s text, could be considered Lobo’s own crowning glory of the Siglo de Oro.
Charles Cole © 2020
Music played an important role at St Philip Neri’s first Oratory in Rome, both in the regular liturgy and also in the musical oratories which were pioneered there, combining readings, meditations and music as an aid to prayer. The Chiesa Nuova, where the Roman Oratory ultimately became established, drew in the young and fostered their faith. We aim to continue this mission, immersing the boys of the Schola in this repertory which so perfectly expresses truth, and we are delighted to be able to share this music and its higher purposes with a wider audience.
Charles Cole © 2020