Cappella Romana Renaissance Easter in Spain and Portugal Program Notes

Renaissance Easter in Spain and Portugal

Our programme presents music appropriate to Easter by some of the foremost composers of the Iberian ‘golden age’, during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Francisco Guerrero spent almost his entire career in the service of Seville Cathedral, as a singer, assistant chapelmaster, and then chapelmaster. Seville Cathedral maintained one of the finest musical establishments in the Iberian world, and Guerrero’s music written for performance in the liturgy there was published in large quantities in Italy, France, and Spain. Victoria’s life and career followed a very different path from Guerrero’s: born in Ávila, Victoria was sent to Rome in the mid 1560s to study at the Jesuit German College in Rome, and spent the next twenty years in that city working as both a musician and a priest. The bulk of his published output (much smaller than Guerrero’s) appeared from Roman music presses between 1572 and 1585. At about this time Victoria returned to Spain, but not to a musical post: he was a chaplain to the Dowager Empress María of Austria, who maintained her court in the royal apartments attached to the Convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Victoria remained in the Empress’s service until her death in 1603 (his six-voice Requiem was written for her exequies), and then became organist of the convent until his own death in 1611.

There were close links between the musical traditions of Spain and Portugal during this period, and particularly between Portugal and Andalucia (of which Seville was the principal city): indeed, from 1580 until 1640 Portugal was under the rule of the Spanish Hapsburgs. The leading figures in Portuguese musical life were composers who had been trained at the cathedral school in Évora and then made their careers in Lisbon. Of these, the most prolific in terms of publications were Duarte Lobo (chapelmaster of Lisbon Cathedral) and Manuel Cardoso (a Carmelite friar, whose music was particularly favoured by John, Duke of Bragança and the future King John IV). Lobo’s output demonstrates a strong indebtedness to that of Francisco Guerrero.

The dramatic texts associated with Eastertide provided opportunities for these composers to employ equivalently dramatic and vivid musical means. Although the text of Vadam et circuibo civitatem is from the Old-Testament Song of Songs, in the context of Victoria’s motet – one of his most remarkably plangent works – it becomes a lament of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the piece is entitled ‘in planctu beatissimæ virginis Mariæ’ in Victoria’s first motet collection of 1572), desperately seeking her lost Son and asking the assistance of the Daughters of Jerusalem in finding him. The text of Ardens est cor meum (a work published in Victoria’s next collection of 1576) is on the same theme, and makes similar use of direct speech, but ends with the word which marks Eastertide: ‘Alleluia’. Victoria’s rhetorical skill is evident in the quickening of pace for Mary Magdalene’s questioning of the ‘gardener’ after the discovery of the empty tomb: ‘If you have taken him, tell me’ (‘si tu sustulisti eum, dicito mihi’). These same words form part of the text of Thomas Crecquillon’s motet Congratulamini mihi, which Guerrero employed as the basis for his parody Mass of this title, published in his first book of Masses (Paris, 1566). The motet text also, however, incorporates the joyful report of the witnessing of the risen Lord, and begins with the words ‘Rejoice with me, all who love the Lord, for He whom I sought has appeared to me’. Guerrero reworks and combines the themes of Crecquillon’s motet, but created new material for the ‘et incarnatus’ of the ‘Credo’, a section typically chosen for special treatment by composers of the period. This passage is followed by a duet for ‘crucifixus’ and a trio for ‘et ascendit’, providing contrast given Guerrero’s tendency to maintain full five-voice textures in this Mass.

The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ is vividly portrayed in one of Guerrero’s most dramatic motets, Maria Magdalena. The words of the angel in the empty tomb – ‘Jesum quem quæritis Nazarenum, crucifixum, surrexit, non est hic’ (‘Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek, the crucified one, has arisen; he is not here’) – instigate the musical climax of the piece, with a majestic slowing of the pace and then lively antiphony for ‘surrexit, non est hic’. This scene in the empty tomb had formed the basis of the great medieval traditions of Easter liturgical dramas, and in the Sequence for Mass of Easter Day, Victimaæ paschali laudes the central section is another dialogue: ‘Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the road?’: ‘[I saw] the tomb of the living Christ…’. Victoria’s setting for double choir leaves the opening part of the Sequence to be sung in chant, the polyphony beginning at ‘Dic nobis, Maria’, the start of this dialogue. Victoria’s triple time music (using the two choirs in quick alternation) for the question ‘Dic nobis, Maria…’ is repeated between each of Mary’s replies (in duple time, and for just four voices), before eight-voice writing and triple time return for the celebratory final section of the piece: ‘Scimus Christum surrexisse…Alleluia’ (‘We know that Christ has risen…Alleluia’). Victoria was a pioneer in the development of writing for multiple choirs which became a staple element of sacred repertories in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was much exploited, for example, by Duarte Lobo, although most of his polychoral works survive incomplete. His setting of the Marian antiphon for use in Eastertide – Regina cæli lætare – is similar to Victoria’s Dic nobis Maria not only in the alternation between the choirs but also in the contrasts of duple and triple metre, here used for all but one of the occurrences of the word ‘alleluia’ which punctuate the text. Guerrero’s treatment of the same antiphon, Regina cæli lætare, is likewise for eight voices, but Guerrero here demonstrates his skill in rich contrapuntal textures using all the voice parts, infusing his polyphony with references to the plainchant melody of this antiphon.

Victoria’s six-voice Surrexit pastor bonus (from the composer’s first motet collection of 1572) marks the resurrection of the Good Shepherd, sacrificed for His flock. The generally festive style (frequently contrasting the upper three and lower three voices in antiphony) is briefly contrasted with darker harmony for ‘mori’ (‘to die’). Cardoso’s Sitivit anima mea – one of the finest works of the Portuguese ‘golden age’ – expresses our hope to enjoy the fruits of Christ’s victory over death, and ends with a wonderful evocation of the soul’s yearned-for flight to heaven.


“RENAISSANCE EASTER IN SPAIN AND PORTUGAL” featuring polyphonic motets by the great Spanish and Portuguese composers Francisco Guerrero, Duarte Lobo, and Tomás Luis de Victoria, with 12 of the Northwest’s finest consort singers.

On Friday, 12 April at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland and Saturday, 13 April at Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle. Both concerts begin at 8pm, with a pre-concert talk at 7pm.

For advance tickets, online or call Box Office Tickets at 800.494.8497 (phone service fee applies). Or call Cappella Romana’s message line at 503-236-8202 for personalized service. Advance tickets start at $22 with discounts for seniors and students.