Genealogías


Conducted by the German maestro Christoph König, the RTVE Choir performed the Officium Defunctorum, one of Tomás Luis de Victoria's masterpieces, as the closing concert of the eighth edition of the Abvlensis International Music Festival. It was on August 30, 2019 at the Cathedral of Ávila. RTVE broadcast this concert on La 2, and from that recording Warner Classics now publishes a DVD and CD.


 


The program was exactly the same as the one that this group recorded in 1974 for the Hispavox label (Collection of Spanish Early Music, volume 21) which, directed by Alberto Blancafort, included Tomás Luis de Victoria's Officium defunctorum, the motet Vere languores a 4 voices (CATB), the Ave Maria for 8 voices for double choir (CATB - CATB), both first published in the printed collection in 1572, and the Ave Maria for 4 voices, today considered apocryphal.


 


The sound technician for that recording was Peter Willemöes and the recording was made in the church of San Bernabé in El Escorial, commissioned by Felipe II from the architect Juan de Herrera. The recording, which received the National Award for Record Companies in 1976, was produced and scored by Roberto Pla, founder of the Cantores Clásicos, the germ of what would later become the Coro de Radio Nacional de España, predecessor in turn of the Coro RTVE which now we will listen. In his notes to that album, Pla highlights "the marvelous way of taking care of the diction of the text, the counterpoint technique and that expressive intelligence that made Victoria one of the greatest musicians in History".


 


When listening, that expressive intelligence, enhanced in this pioneering recording of the Officium defunctorum, takes us back to an interpretive tradition of nineteenth-century roots and a cecilian spirit, one that Manuel de Falla also explored in his highly personal approaches to Victoria's music that the composer would define precisely, as expressive versions: readings interpreted a cappella by large-format vocal groups characterized by moderate tempi, accentuated dynamic contrasts and a fiery agogic.


The marvelous way of taking care of the diction of the text, the counterpoint technique and that expressive intelligence that made Victoria one of the greatest musicians in History.


Back to the program, and as is well known, Tomás Luis de Victoria wrote the Officium defunctorum for the funeral of Empress María de Austria held in the Church of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid on March 18 and 19, 1603. Victoria was chaplain of the Empress for many years and after the death of her protector, the great composer from Avila also worked as an organist in that institution.


 


The Officium is composed for six voices (CCATTB) and, as we said, it was performed for the first time in 1603 and published in Madrid in 1605: Thomae Ludovici de Victoria, Abulensis, sacrae Caesare Maiestatis Capellani. Of fi cium Defunctorum, sex vocibus. In obitu et obsequiis Sacrae Imperatricis. Nunc primum in lucem aeditum. Cum permissu superiorum. Matriti, former Tipographia Regia.


 


The dedication is addressed to Princess Margaret, daughter of Empress Maria and Emperor Maximilian of Austria, and in it Victoria describes the qualities of such a high family.


 


Regarding the ceremonial, Alfonso de Vicente writes that at that time the singing chaplains of the Madrid monastery were eight, in addition to a chapel master, an organist and a bass player. We also know that in the Descalzas Reales there were singing children.


 


The chronicles collect that four singers from Toledo Cathedral also attended those funerals, with which we could conclude that the number of singers (eight from the Descalzas and four from outside) seemed to be adequate for a choir with a minimum of two singers per part to interpret a mass for six voices, although it cannot be assured ⏤ Vicente continues that the eight singers of the Descalzas sang, as a somewhat later report (1610) reveals that the chaplain singers were "old and with ailments and illnesses and their voices were broken."


That's right, with his Officium defunctorum Tomás Luis de Victoria closed with all splendor his extraordinary production, a glorious stage of Spanish music, and the eighth edition of the Abvlensis International Music Festival.


In any case, and regardless of the interpretive context in which we place ourselves, in recent years the Officium defunctorum has become, with good reason, the most famous of the collections printed by Victoria, and the most recorded by the Spanish composer most recorded of all time. But this was not always the case: let us remember that the edition of Bruno Turner's Of fi cium defunctorum, which contributed so much to the diffusion of this work in the anglo-saxon environment, was published in 1988, hence the consideration that this visionary recording by the RTVE Choir deserves, now forty-five years.


 


Finally, we must insist that the Officium defunctorum is a peak of the musical Renaissance, an absolute masterpiece of vocal polyphony, of an overwhelming perfection and expressive intensity. In addition, now greater than its musical relevance, this work has, from a historical perspective, an evident symbolic value, since it is not only the last work that Tomás Luis de Victoria gave to the press, his swan song, just like him He himself writes in the aforementioned dedication, it is also the epilogue of a way of understanding our art.


 


That's right, with his Officium defunctorum Tomás Luis de Victoria closed with all splendor his extraordinary production, a glorious stage of Spanish music, and the eighth edition of the Abvlensis International Music Festival.


 


Hence the extraordinary interest of this edition that the Warner Classics label is now presenting in CD and DVD format and which includes the commemorative concert that was scheduled to close the eighth edition of the Abvlensis International Festival with the intention of celebrating the 70 years of history of the Choir RTVE and pay tribute to those pioneers who helped so much to spread our musical heritage.


 


Everything in this production is, as I said, extraordinary. First, the music: Tomás Luis de Victoria's Officium defunctorum is a masterpiece, universally recognized as such. The architecture and magnificence of the space are also dazzling, the Ávila cathedral, where probably Tomás Luis de Victoria was a child singer. A magnificence that enhances the craft and beauty of the voices of the RTVE Choir and the elegance of the interpretation that Christoph König directs and that is collected here, in this emotional recognition of our heritage and the legacy of those who preceded us in their care.


 


 


Inés Mogollón.


Musicologist and member of the team of Tomás Luis de Victoria Research Center.


 

 

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