One aspect of the cult of the Virgin Mary was its appropriation of texts from the Canticum Canticorum (Song of Songs) with its often very sensual imagery of love converted to serve the cult of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The motet Vidi speciosam is an example of one such text being used in this way. The text is from the Song of Songs and its lines describing the beloved as having ‘gone up from the desert‘ like a column of incense would have been seen as perfect for use during the Feast of the Assumption (15th August) and that indeed is what it is, it’s a Responsory at Matins on the Feast of the Assumption.
Victoria set it for six voices (SSATTB) in the mixolydian (G) mode which in Victoria’s music generally translates to straight G major and it’s in two sections AB–CB. Vidi speciosam’s text – a Hebrew love poem. is both beautiful and sensual and this language was taken over from the Latin translation of the Vulgate into music by Victoria whose purpose in setting it was to musically portray the Virgin ascending into heaven rising like a dove over the rivers or a column of incense laden smoke delciously perfumed ‘surrounded by roses and lilies of the valley‘. The motet opens with three high voices quickly followed by three lower so far so conventional it’s what Victoria does next that makes this motet so special which is that he artificially produces a series of double-choir effects by introducing a bewildering variety of combinations of three, four, and six voices which he couples with crossing of the tenor and treble parts to give a sort of polychromatic effect not unlike that achieved by Palestrina in his motet Assumpta est Maria. It’s sung below by Westminster Cathedral Choir under Martin Baker. Enjoy :-).
Text & tranlsation: Vidi speciosam
Vidi speciosam sicut columbam ascendentem
I saw her, beautiful as a dove, ascending from above streams of water, she whose sweet fragrance was above price in garments deliciously perfumed, and like a spring day, she was surrounded by roses and lilies of the valley.
Quae est ista quae ascendit per desertum
Responsory at matins on the feast of the assumption
Who is she that has gone up from the desert,