Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Tenebrae Responsoria for Maundy Thursday

The rite of Tenebrae is marked by the extinction of 15 candles, one after each psalm. At the end of the canticle Benedictus Dominus all the candles are extinguished and what follows is said or sung 'in tenebris'.

The rite of Tenebrae is marked by the extinction of 15 candles, one after each psalm. At the end of the canticle Benedictus Dominus all the candles are extinguished and what follows is said or sung ‘in tenebris’.

De Victoria’s music for the Liturgy of Holy Week the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae is some of his most beautiful, he published it in Rome in 1585 shortly before he returned to Spain using the name of the Holy Week Liturgy as his title. It’s a remarkable feat of  composition not only for its beauty but also for its completeness — neither Palestrina’s nor de Lassus’ works written for Holy Week for example come even close in their scope and depth of coverage as de Victoria’s.

The rite of Tenebrae as Victoria would have known it consisted of Matins divided in three Nocturns for each of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday the texts for these nocturns consisted of Lamentations alternated with Responsoria in the first nocturn of each day Victoria set the Lamentations but not the Responsoria. The texts of the Tenebrae Responsoria follow the events of Christ’s Passion and Death. They centonize the Gospels and add some further texts the origins of which are unknown but which appear to date from the fourth century.

Finally a note on performance. In our times we listen to these pieces in sets and the advantage to this is that their unity and genius is emphasised but this isn’t how de Victoria would have conceived of how they would be heard. Victoria wrote them as part of ritual which featured Lamentations, Responsoria, readings, psalms and canticles which were chanted and sung at various stages of the rite of Tenebrae they commented on, highlighted, and elaborated the stages of  Christ’s Passion and Death. In an attempt to give a tiny flavour of that I’ve uploaded each of  the responsoria separately below. I’ve also uploaded them as a single file so that you can listen to them as a unit if you wish. I would however urge you to listen to them separately first imagining if you will them being sung in a church, cathedral, or monastery chapel which is progressively plunged into darkness as the candles illuminating the Altar are successively extinguished you’ll find the extra time is very well spent.

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Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Tenebrae Responsoria for Maundy Thursday – individual

Amicus meus osculi me

Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signo:
Quem osculatus fuero, ipse est, tenete eum:
hoc malum fecit signum,
qui per osculum adimplevit homicidium. Infelix praetermisit pretium sanguinis,
et in fine laqueo se suspendit. Bonum erat illi,
si natus non fuisset homo ille.
The sign by which my friend betrayed me was a kiss:
The one I kiss, he is your man; hold him fast.
This was the evil sign he gave,
and through a kiss murder he wrought. The wretch returned the price of blood,
and in the end he hanged himself. It would have been good for that man,
had he never been born.

Judas mercator pessimus

Judas mercator pessimus osculo petiit Dominum:
ille ut agnus innocens non negavit Judae osculum:
Judas, that dealer in wickedness, sought out the Lord with a kiss, and He, like an innocent lamb, did not refuse Judas’ kiss:
Denariorum numero Christum Judaeis tradidit. For a handful of coins he delivered Christ up to the Jews.
Melius illi erat, si natus non fuisset. It would have been better for him, had he never been born.

Unus ex discipulis meis

Unus ex discipulis meis tradet me hodie:
Vae illi per quem tradar ego:
This day shall one of my disciples betray me.
Woe to him by whom I am betrayed.
Melius illi erat, si natus non fuisset. It would have been better for him, had he never been born.
Qui intingit mecum manum in paropside,
hic me traditurus est in manus peccatorum.
He who dips his hand into the bowl with me
will deliver me into the hands of sinners.

Eram quasi agnus innocens

Eram quasi agnus innocens:
ductus sum ad immolandum, et nesciebam:
consilium fecerunt inimici mei adversum me, dicentes:
I was like an innocent lamb.
I was led to sacrifice, and did not know.
My enemies plotted against me, saying:
Venite, mittamus lignum in panem eius,
et eradamus eum de terra viventium.
Come, let us put wood into his bread,
and drive him from the land of the living.
Omnes inimici mei adversum me cogitabant mala mihi: All my enemies devised evil against me.
verbum iniquum mandaverunt adversum me, dicentes: Cruel words they spoke against me, saying:

Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum

Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum,
qui exhortabamini mori pro me?
Could you not keep watch with me one hour,
you who declared you would die for me?
Vel Judam non videtis, quomodo non dormit,
sed festinat tradere me Iudaeis?
Or do you not see that Judas does not sleep,
but hastens to deliver me into the hands of the Jews?
Quid dormitis? Surgite et orate,
ne intretis in tentationem.
Why do you sleep? Arise and pray
that you may not be put to the test.

Seniores populi consilium fecerunt

Seniores populi consilium fecerunt, The elders of the people plotted together
Ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:
cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.
To have Jesus arrested by some trick, and to put him to death: with swords and cudgels they went out as if against a robber.
Collegerunt pontifices et pharisaei concilium. The priests and pharisees conferred together.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Tenebrae Responsoria for Maundy Thursday – complete

Performers: Westminster Cathedral Choir conducted by David Hill

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