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About this Piece

Unquestionably the most famous composer of the Spanish Renaissance, Tomás Luis de Victoria was born in Ávila; his earliest musical  training was as a boy chorister at Ávila Cathedral. In 1565 (after his voice had changed), Victoria received a grant from Philip II to attend   the German College in Rome to continue his  studies.  After completing  his  training,  Victoria held a variety of overlapping musical  positions in Rome: singer, organist, teacher, and composer, and was even ordained a priest in 1575. He returned to Spain in 1587 as chaplain and chapel master to Dowager Empress Maria at the Convent of the Barefoot Nuns of St. Clare in Madrid, serving the Dowager for 17 years,  until her death, and remaining at the convent until his own death in 1611.

The justly famous motet O magnum mysterium (O great mystery) sets a sublime text from Christmas Vespers. Victoria’s use of serenely interwoven polyphony at the opening bars leads to a hushed chordal declamation at the words “O beata Virgo” (“O Blessed Virgin”). An extended “Alleluia” section, first in triple meter, then in duple, concludes the motet.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio.
O beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Iesum Christum. Alleluia.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that beasts should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger.
O Blessed Virgin, in whose unblemished womb
was carried the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!