O magnum mysterium
Tomás Luis de Victoria
Unquestionably the most famous composer of the Spanish Renaissance, Tomás Luis de Victoria was born in Ávila; his earliest musical training was as a boy chorister at Ávila Cathedral. In 1565 (after his voice had changed), Victoria received a grant from Philip II to attend the German College in Rome to continue his studies. After completing his training, Victoria held a variety of overlapping musical positions in Rome: singer, organist, teacher, and composer, and was even ordained a priest in 1575. He returned to Spain in 1587 as chaplain and chapel master to Dowager Empress Maria at the Convent of the Barefoot Nuns of St. Clare in Madrid, serving the Dowager for 17 years, until her death, and remaining at the convent until his own death in 1611.
The justly famous motet O magnum mysterium (O great mystery) sets a sublime text from Christmas Vespers. Victoria’s use of serenely interwoven polyphony at the opening bars leads to a hushed chordal declamation at the words “O beata Virgo” (“O Blessed Virgin”). An extended “Alleluia” section, first in triple meter, then in duple, concludes the motet.
O magnum mysterium,
O great mystery,