Rome 1565-1585


Tomás Luis de Victoria’s time in Rome began at the German College. This college, founded by the Jesuits in 1552, was conceived of as one of the most important institutions for the training and education of clergyman in the Catholic Church. The first seminarians were German, but given the difficult economic situation, paying students were also admitted. These students were referred to as convittori, and they began to arrive from all over Europe; many came from noble families, Italian, Spanish and English in particular. Starting in 1563, the German College was located in the Corso district, in the 15th century Cesi-Mellini palace (Vitelli).

Tomás Luis, clothed in black as the College constitutions mandated for convittori, began his studies at the college in 1565. He remained for a full three years as a boarding student, from mid 1565 until 1568. When he arrived at the College, there were some 20 German students and around 200 convittori from various countries.

Priesthood studies were received at the nearby Roman Seminary, where Palestrina was acting as maestro di capella. Under his direction, the Seminary choir attained astonishing quality.


In 1569 Victoria decided to leave the nest he had made at the German College and set out on his own. He went in search of a paying profession, which at the same time required him to reside outside the College. The Aragonese Santa María di Monserrato church in Rome offered him a position as chanter and organist, and here he began to work on the first of his publications, which came out in 1572. It seems clear that since Victoria was now no longer bound to following the demanding class, study and prayer schedule of the German College, he would have more time to devote to his composing.


In 1571 the Jesuits called on Tomás Luis to cover the position of professor of plainsong for students at the German College. He was 23 years old at the time, and well known by the fathers of the Company. He was a serious and responsible young man who excelled in all areas of music, with extensive knowledge of the discipline he had been called upon to teach. Victoria returned once again to the College, which he had left two years prior in order to establish himself as chanter and organist at Montserrato, with a salary of 15 giulios (a scudo and a half) per month plus room and board. 


He was simultaneously named maestro di capella of the Roman Seminary when Palestrina left the position in September 1571, perhaps at the recommendation of the Italian maestro. Both ecclesiastical and secular events were held at the Roman Seminary, and the four Marian congregations belonging to the Seminary held numerous musical representations. Chant and singing was also present at academic events and scholastic disputes.


Victoria indeed took on a wide variety of activities during these years: music professor for students at the German College starting in 1571, and at the same time, maestro di capella at the Seminary from 1572 until 25 June 1573, when he decided to leave the Seminary and devote himself to the position of per cantore, i.e. maestro di capella, at the German College. He may have continued in his position at the Seminary until October 1573, when the separation of the convittori and the Germans was complete, or until an undetermined date, never later than 1575. 


Pope Gregory XIII granted the German College use of the Sant'Apollinare palace in Rome as a permanent residence on 9 January 1574, and on 15 April 1575, conceded the annexed Sant'Apollinare church under the condition that the College continue to hold mass there.


Victoria was then named Maestro di Capella of Sant'Apollinare, where he worked intensely, providing more than 180 days a year of music for high mass. He worked with a choir of 20 of the College's finest students to provide polyphonic music, together with three other choirs that participated solely with plainsong and Gregorian chant. He was also responsible for the tuning and maintenance of the church's organ, which he himself used frequently. There are many testimonies from the time alleging that the church of Sant'Apollinare was one of the most frequented in Rome due to the fine quality of the music produced there.


The rector, Lauretano, had instituted the liturgy in such a way as to avoid boredom and detachment and to use music to lift the faithful's souls to God. Some masses were therefore sung in plainsong, while others included instrumental accompaniment and canto figurado, or measured plainsong, for variety. The rector was staunchly opposed to secular music and excessively complex or showy harmonies and counterpoint. In this sense, Lauretano was in perfect communion with the feelings and ideas of Victoria, whose music and religious sentiment conformed to this spirit of Counter-Reformation piety.


The repertoire sung at Sant'Apollinare included the most notable polyphonic works of the time. There are references to works by Palestrina and Victoria which would be heard even before they were published. We must bear in mind that Victoria was at this time experiencing one of his most creative and musically active phases. Yet, at the end of 1576, Victoria decided to leave his position at Sant'Apollinare and make another change in his life.


In 1575 he was ordained a priest, after receiving the corresponding ecclesiastical benefices. He had achieved one of his aspirations, and from this moment on he gave in to the desire to retire to a more tranquil existence that his life as maestro di capella at Sant'Apollinare had not permitted, leaving more time to compose and to dedicate to his priestly responsibilities. The concession of various ecclesiastical benefices located throughout Spain had instantaneously solved any economic concerns he may have had. He now no longer needed to depend on a salary or a continuing job, and he left his paid position as maestro di capella as soon as he was able in order to use the newly granted time and tranquility to fully devote himself to his true passion: composing.


Victoria established contacts with a newly created and pioneering institution, the Oratorio di San Felipe Neri, as he had done in Avila and Rome with the Society of Jesus. Animuccia and Soto de Langa were illustrious Oratorians and fine musicians. Soto was the topmost musical authority at the Oratorio, and a close friend of Victoria. We have little reliable information, however, regarding Victoria's stay at the Oratorio.

There is no news of whether Victoria remained at the German College in 1577, if only as a resident, or whether he had already moved on to San Girolamo della Caritá, as seems more plausible. Regardless, the San Girolamo register of 1578 offers us a bit of illuminating information: on 8 July 1578, Tomás Luis de Victoria entered San Girolamo as a priest. This chaplaincy may have provided Tomás Luis with a source of income in exchange for his priestly services, or may simply have given him access to room and board together with the other priests who lived there. 


The musical rewards were soon in arriving. In the approximately seven years that Victoria lived in San Girolamo he published 6 collections. This was undoubtedly his most productive period, a sign that his working conditions were clearly favorable. Legally speaking, Victoria never belonged to the Oratorio congregation. To begin with, the rules stated that in order to be an Oratarian, one had to reside at the Oratorio for at least 10 years, and Victoria was only there for 7. Secondly, he did not compose laudi or music for the Oratorio, as Neri would have wanted. In 1585 Victoria had other things on his mind: his return to Spain.


ANA SABE ANDREU (Translation: Colleen Terry)