2014-12-07 Notes from the Bench

“Benedictus Dominus” by Tomás Luis de Victoria

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


BLESSED be the Lord God of Israel : for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest :

for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death :

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.


The Spanish composer, organist, and Roman Catholic priest, Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) was one of the best-known and among the most important composers of the late Renaissance era. Victoria is sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Palestrina;” he may have studied with Palestrina and traces of Palestrina’s writing style are encountered in Victoria’s works.

Victoria was born in the Áliva province of the Castile region of Spain. He began his musical training singing as a choirboy in the Ávila Cathedral and mostly likely studied keyboard music there as well. From an early age, he was highly regarded as an accomplished organist. In 1565, Victoria received a grant from Philip II in 1565 to work in Rome. While there, he held various positions at the German College and the Pontifical Roman Seminary. Victoria was ordained a priest in 1574. Victoria returned to Spain in 1587 and was appointed the chaplain to Philip II’s sister, the Dowager Empress Maria at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de S. Clara in Madrid. Following the Empress’s death in 1603, Victoria was willed a chaplaincy at the convent retained a position there as the organist.

Victoria devoted his compositional output exclusively to writing sacred music. Many of his works express the passion of Spanish religious mysticism. Victoria favored a compositional style that utilized simple melodic lines, homophonic textures, rhythmic variety, and the free use of dissonance which give his works great intensity and emotional appeal.

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