Life and career
Victoria was born in
Sanchidrián in the province of Ávila, Castile around 1548
and died in 1611. Victoria’s family can be traced back for
generations. Not only are the names of the members in his
immediate family known, but even the occupation of his
grandfather. Victoria was the seventh of nine children born
to Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la
Concha. After his father’s death in 1557, his uncle, Juan
Luis, became his guardian. He was a choirboy in Ávila
Cathedral. Cathedral records state that his uncle, Juan
Luis, presented Victoria’s Liber Primus to the church while
reminding them that Victoria had been brought up in the
Ávila Cathedral. Because he was such an accomplished
organist, many believe that he began studying the keyboard
at an early age from a teacher in Ávila. Victoria most
likely began studying "the classics" at St. Giles’s, a boy’s
school in Ávila. This school was praised by St. Teresa and
other highly regarded people of music.
After receiving a grant from Philip II in 1565, Victoria
went to Rome and became cantor at the Collegium Germanicum
founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. He may have studied with
Palestrina around this time, though the evidence is
circumstantial; certainly he was influenced by the Italian's
style. For some time, beginning in 1573, Victoria held two
positions. One being at the German College and the other
being at the Roman Seminary. He held the positions of
chapelmaster and instructor of plainsong. In 1571, he was
hired at the Collegium Germanicum as a teacher and began
earning his first steady income. Victoria, after Palestrina
left the Roman Seminary, took over the position of maestro
at the Seminary. Victoria became an ordained priest in 1574.
Before this he was made a deacon, but didn’t serve as deacon
as long as typical deacons before becoming a priest. In
1575, Victoria was appointed Maestro di Capella at S.
Apollinare. Many church officials would ask Victoria for his
opinion on appointments to cathedral positions because of
his fame and knowledge. He was faithful to his position of a
convent organist even after his professional debut as an
organist. He did not stay in Italy, however.
In 1587 Philip II honored his desire to return to his native
Spain, naming him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager
Empress María, daughter of Charles V, who had been living in
retirement with her daughter Princess Margarita at the
Monasterio de las Descalzas de S Clara at Madrid from 1581.
In 1591, Victoria became a godfather to his brother Juan
Luis’s daughter, Isabel de Victoria. Victoria worked for 24
years at Descalzas Reales. He served there for 17 years as
the empress’s chaplain until her death and then as convent
organist. Victoria was also being paid much more at the
Descalzas Reales than he would have earned as a cathedral
chapelmaster, receiving an annual income from absentee
benefices from 1587–1611. When the empress Maria died in
1603, she gave three chaplaincies in the convent, with
Victoria receiving one of them. According to Victoria, he
never accepted any extra pay for being a chapelmaster, and
he became the organist rather than the chapelmaster. Such
was the esteem in which he was held that his contract
allowed him frequent travel away from the convent. He was
able to visit Rome in 1593 for two years, attending
Palestrina's funeral in 1594. He died in 1611 in the
chaplains’ residence and was buried at the convent, although
his tomb has yet to be identified.
Even though Victoria is typically viewed as being the
leading composer of the Roman School, the school was also
heavily marked by other Spanish composers such as Morales,
Guerrero, and Escobedo.
Victoria is the most
significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain,
and one of the best-regarded composers of sacred music in
the late Renaissance, a genre to which he devoted himself
exclusively. Victoria’s music reflected his intricate
personality. In his music, the passion of Spanish mysticism
and religion is expressed. Victoria was praised by Padre
Martini for his melodic phrases and his joyful inventions.
His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with
numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his
music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal,
qualities considered by some to be lacking in the arguably
more rhythmically and harmonically placid music of
Palestrina. There are quite a few differences in their
compositional styles, such as treatment of melody and
Victoria was a master at overlapping and dividing choirs
with multiple parts with a gradual decreasing of rhythmic
distance throughout. Not only does Victoria incorporate
intricate parts for the voices, but the organ is treated
almost like a soloist in many of his choral pieces. Victoria
did not begin the development of psalm settings or antiphons
for two choirs, but he continued and increased the
popularity of such repertoire. Victoria would reissue works
that had been published previously, and would include new
revisions in each new issue.
Victoria published his first book of motets in 1572. In 1585
Victoria wrote his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, a collection
which included 37 pieces that are part of the Holy Week
celebrations in the Catholic liturgy.
Two influences in Victoria’s life were Giovanni Maria Nanino
and Luca Marenzio. Victoria admired them for their work in
madrigals rather than church music. It has been speculated
that Victoria took lessons from Escobedo at an early age
before moving to Rome.
Victoria claimed that he composed his most creative works
under his patron, His Eminence Otto Cardinal von Truchsess.
However, Stevenson does not believe that he learned
everything about music under Cardinal Truchsess’s patronage;
Victoria would like people to believe such a fact. During
the years that Victoria was devoted to Philip II, he
expressed exhaustion from his compositional work. Most of
the compositions that Victoria wrote that were dedicated to
Cardinal Bonelli, Philip II, or Pope Gregory XIII were not
Stylistically his music shuns the elaborate counterpoint of
many of his contemporaries, preferring simple line and
homophonic textures, yet seeking rhythmic variety and
sometimes including intense and surprising contrasts. His
melodic writing and use of dissonance is more free than that
of Palestrina; occasionally he uses intervals which are
prohibited in the strict application of 16th century
counterpoint, such as ascending major sixths, or even
occasional diminished fourths (for example, a melodic
diminished fourth occurs in a passage representing grief in
his motet Sancta Maria, succurre). Victoria sometimes uses
dramatic word-painting, of a kind usually found only in
madrigals. Some of his sacred music uses instruments (a
practice which is not uncommon in Spanish sacred music of
the 16th century), and he also wrote polychoral works for
more than one spatially separated group of singers, in the
style of the composers of the Venetian school who were
working at St. Mark's in Venice.
His most famous work, and his masterpiece, was a Requiem
Mass for the Empress Maria. Also notable is the serene
emotion of each of the 37 pieces that form his Officium
Hebdomadae Sanctae of 1585, a collection of motets and
lamentations linked to the Holy Week Catholic celebrations.
Victoria was the
greatest Spanish composer of the sixteenth century. A
profoundly religious man, he wrote only sacred music.
More than anywhere else in Europe, Spain was gripped at
this time by a strident, zealous Catholicism, most
evident in the purges of the Inquisition, in Ignatius
Loyola's foundation of the Jesuit order in 1534, and in
the creation of several new monastic orders. Such
deep-seated religious fervour permeated all aspects of
life, including the composition of church music.
Victoria's music is a reflection of this highly charged
and passionate attitude.
Born in Avila, the
seventh of 11 children, Victoria grew up with religion
an integral part of his life. Two of his uncles were
priests, one of whom took care of the young Victoria
after the death of his father when he was nine. He went
to study at a local Jesuit school, sang in the choir of
Avila Cathedral and built up a strong reputation
When his voice broke he
was encouraged by both the Cathedral and King Philip II
of Spain to further his studies in Rome. There he joined
the Jesuit Collegio Germanico, where he trained for the
priesthood as well as practising music.
Palestrina was at that
time the Maestro di Cappella at the nearby Scininano
Romano, and it is likely that he taught Victoria;
undoubtedly some sort of exchange of musical ideas took
place between the two composers.
Victoria remained in
Rome for over 20 years. He became a priest in 1575, and
held several appointments at churches and religious
institutions. Equally valuable to his musical
development was the fertile contact with other composers
living in or visiting Rome. He published a number of
particularly beautiful books of his music, and in a
dedication of Missarum libri duo to Philip II in 1583 he
expressed a desire to return to his beloved Spain. In
1587 his wishes were granted when the King appointed him
chaplain to the Dowager Empress Maria, widow of
Maximilian II, who lived in retirement in Madrid.
Victoria served at her convent for the rest of his life.
In 1603 the Dowager Empress died and Victoria composed
her Requiem, the mighty Officium defunctorum. Little
more was heard from him before his own death in 1611.
Victoria's Masses are
for four to 12 voices, often divided up into two or
three choirs — an innovative arrangement. The rest of
his work includes motets, Magnificats, and a variety of
other sacred works. His music expresses the ardent,
fatalistic Catholicism peculiar to his country and time.
While the Officium defunctorum is deeply reflective,
Masses such as О quam gloriosum and Ave maris Stella arc
more joyful, holding out more hope for this life, as
opposed to the next; all demonstrate his passionate