Tomás Luis de Victoria was first a priest and then a composer, he loved the Church and saw the Mass with its promise of eternal life and happiness as an occasion of joy – he never wrote a gloomy Mass. By all accounts he himself was of a sunny and cheerful disposition and these qualities certainly characterise his Ascension motet Ascendens Christus in altum (Christ ascending on high) which he composed in 1572 and upon which this setting of the Mass is based. When I first wrote about the motet back May 26th, 2015 I described it as being ‘gloriously festive’, with its sparkling ascending motifs and, ringing happy Alleluias it perfectly reflects its text, it was a runaway success and rapidly spread far and wide going through several reprints. Twenty years later in 1592 De Victoria built upon the motet’s success by composing a setting of the Mass based upon it.
The Mass takes the motets and incorporates it thoroughly into each and every one of its sections exercising considerable ingenuity to keep the incorporated fresh and original – there is not a single point in this Mass, not even one, where either the musical inspiration or the musical interest flags. It’s a five-part setting, well at least technically it is because De Victoria kept the five voices but used considerable variation in forces throughout the Mass to add sparkle and interest. There are numerous sections scored for various combinations of four voices and one section (the Agnus Dei) which is not only scored for six voices (SSATTB) but which has the first tenors, altos and second trebles singing in canon in the technique known as trinitas in unitate. The writing for four voices is no less interesting and structurally very varied the Christe eleison is SSAT, the ‘Domine Deus’ in the Gloria is SSAB, both the ‘Crucifixus’ and the ‘Et resurrexit’ in the Credo are SSAT, while the Benedictus is SATB.
All of this full of light and cheerful brightness and in places such the Gloria the writing is downright bouncy as is the triple-time Hosanna sung to the same music after the Sanctus and Benedictus. All of this jubilation is punctuated with moments of reflective serenity and quiet adoration – Victoria wanted his congregation not only to rejoice but to reflect on why they were rejoicing. Enjoy :-).
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Missa Ascendens Christus in altum
- Victoria: Motet Ascendens Christe in Altum 4:58
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 1 Kyrie 1:46
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 2 Gloria 3:54
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 3 - Credo 5:55
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 4 - Sanctus 2:13
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 5- Benedictus 2:04
- Missa- Acendens Christus in Altum 6- Agnus Dei 5:05
Performers: Westminster Cathedral Choir conducted by David Hill