The Victory Mass

In 1528 Clément Janequin published his famous setting of La guerre, or La Bataille de Marignan, as it was also known. Celebrating a notable French victory in battle in 1515, it was to become the model for a large number of later “battle” works, including the Missa Pro Victoria which was published in Madrid in 1600. In tonight’s programme we will perform Janequin’s original chanson complete with all the warlike vocal sound effects that made it so famous, and then present Victoria’s mass setting, which oddly enough is very true to the original model and copies many of the special effects – something which may seem strange to us now in a sacred piece, but which was not at all unusual at the time. Masses were frequently modelled on all sorts of popular secular songs, and often included the musical affects originally intended for quite amorous texts.

The division between the sacred and secular was by no means as we might imagine! For even though he wrote largely secular songs, Janequin, like Victoria, was an ordained priest.

Victoria, however, wrote no secular music at all. He was born in the Spanish town of Avila and began his musical education as a choirboy. His musical studies were eventually to take him to Rome where he remained for a good deal of his working life, mainly at the German college where Jesuit missionaries were trained for sending into Germany in an attempt to undermine the protestant Reformation. In fact Rome was where much of his music was published. In his latter years he returned to Spain and to the service of the widowed Empress who was now living within a convent with a large musical establishment. It was for her that he wrote his remarkable Requiem, which we will be performing on October 5th as part of the Brighton Early Music Festival.

Victoria’s output was relatively large and varied, covering just about every aspect of liturgical music. It is also remarkably consistent in quality, with a deeply spiritual character that manages to combine seamlessly the rugged intensity of Iberian music with the more suave and elegant lines of Roman music as typified by Palestrina. A real hallmark of his music is in fact an elegant intensity; seen to perfection in his beautiful Ave Maria, where plainsong inspired lines of sweeping melody build up to an enthralling climax in the final phrase: “ut cum electis te videamus” (so that with the faithful we will finally see you). In the same piece, however, he also makes use of short, more declamatory phrases, such as in the triple-time “ora pro nobis peccatoribus” (pray for us sinners) which builds a pleading intensity through simple repetition. Much of the same can also be said of the 6-voice Salve Regina. Here the chant appears in the 2nd soprano part for all of the first two sections, where it acts as a “cantus firmus” (an ancient composing technique in which one part repeats a phrase of, for instance, chant in long notes while other parts weave around it). Interestingly though, in the first section it always starts on a “c”, whereas in the 2nd part it alternates between starting on a “c” and a far more prominent high ”f”.

In his large scale multi choir pieces Victoria’s style is necessarily much simpler, with the emphasis on rhythmic vitality, but he is still able to create more intense short passages featuring just one of the choirs. This is especially noticable in the 3 choir Magnificat Sexti toni.

In all of these pieces, there are no indications in the original prints for instrumental participation. However. This is largely true for the whole of the polychoral repertoire with very few exceptions. However we do know that instruments were often employed in large cathedrals and household or Royal chapels. We also have some evidence from printed sources as to how they might (or indeed, might not!!)be mixed in with the voices. As ever, practicality was the over riding rule, and experimentation the obvious temptation!

We have experimented – in a practical way!

In his lifetime Alonso Lobo (1555 – 1617) was thought the equal of Victoria. He probably studied with the older master, Guerrero, when he was a choirboy at Seville Cathedral where Guerrero was choirmaster. Versa est in luctum is a text from the requiem mass, and though he did not set an entire requiem himself, it is thought to have been written for memorial service in honour of Phillip 11 of Spain.

Joan Cererols (1618 – 76) was a Catalan composer sent to school at the monastery of Montserrat at age of 8; he became a novice at 18, and spent his whole life devoted to music within the monastery – becoming choirmaster in 1658. However, he did travel to Madrid in 1648 to study the music of the new generation of Spanish composers. He wrote mostly church music (psalms, masses and a requiem) , but also a collection of villancicos in Spanish. These show a strong folk influence, particularly in the rhythm, and often haunting melodies. As with all villancicos, they consist of a solo copla and a choral refrain, or estribillo. It is interesting that he uses copla – style solos also in his Latin liturgical music. In Laudate pueri, the solo soprano voice is treated almost like a 3rd choir.

©Deborah Roberts April 2004