Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – August 20, 1611) was a gifted Spanish composer of the late Renaissance. He was the most famous composer of the 16th century in Spain, and is considered by many to be second only to Palestrina as a composer of sacred polyphony at the time.
He was born in Avila, likely studying with Escobedo at Segovia early in his life. He is known to have gone to Rome around 1564, where he joined the monastery founded by St. Ignatius Loyola as part of the fight against Lutheranism. He may have studied with Palestrina around this time, though the evidence is circumstantial; certainly he was influenced by the Italian's style. In 1575 he was ordained as a priest, after a period of service at the monastery as maestro di cappella. He did not stay in Italy, however; in 1586 he returned to Spain, this time in the service of Empress Maria , who was entering the convent of Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Victoria remained at the convent until the end of his life, performing several roles—priest, composer, director of the choir, and organist.
Victoria is the most significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and one of the finest of all composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance. His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal, qualities considered by some to be lacking in the technically perfect but emotionally detached music of his great Italian contemporary Palestrina.
Stylistically his music shuns the elaborate counterpoint of many of his contemporaries, preferring simple line and homophonic textures, yet seeking rhythmic variety and sometimes including intense and surprising contrasts. His melodic writing and use of dissonance is more free than that of Palestrina; occasionally he uses intervals which are prohibited in the strict application of 16th century counterpoint, such as ascending major sixths, or even occasional diminished fourths (for example, a melodic diminished fourth occurs in a passage representing grief in his motet Sancta Maria, succurre). Victoria sometimes uses dramatic word-painting , of a kind usually found only in madrigals. Some of his sacred music uses instruments (a practice which is not uncommon in Spanish sacred music of the 16th century), and he also wrote polychoral works for more than one spatially separated group of singers, in the style of the composers of the Venetian school who were working at St. Mark's in Venice.
One of his finest, most beautiful, and most refined works is the great Requiem Mass he wrote in 1603 for the funeral of Empress Maria, who had been his employer since 1586, and who was the sister of Philip II and wife of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor.
References and further reading
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304
- The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th ed. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 002872416X