Music/Films of Three Tenebrae by Tomás Luis de Victoria
transcribed for wind quintet (1975, 2015)
To access each music/film click on the Latin title: I. Tanquam ad Latronem For this transcription I used the klangfarbenmelodie (sound-colour-melody) technique, which Anton Webern used in 1935 for his orchestral transcription of J.S. Bach’s Ricercar, a six voice fugue from The MusicalOffering. Here the varied sound-colours of each instrument in the wind quintet bring out the interwoven melodic motifs in Victoria’s counterpoint. II. Tenebrae Factae Sunt The counterpoint is more block-like here, so I’ve used extremes in register (bass clarinet and piccolo, instead of flute and clarinet) to bring out the textures Victoria uses.
III. Animam Meam Dilectam In this transcription I’ve exploded the counterpoint to the extent that you hear two pieces simultaneously: the transcription and the original, like a picture in a mosaic. As in a mosaic, shapes are highlighted which otherwise would not have been seen/heard.
To access the transcription of Victoria's music with just a black screen, click here.
Three Tenebrae by Tomás Luis de Victoria Victoria (ca 1548 -1611) was a leading Spanish composer of religious music during the period of the Counter Reformation. A contemporary of the mystic Teresa d’Avila, and the painter El Greco, his music is highly expressive, at times ecstatic in quality. 16th century Europe was a golden age for religious contrapuntal choral music, full of experimentation. At one extreme, there's the complex spatial counterpoint in the 40 part motet Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, and at the other, the spatially separate groups of singers and instrumentalists which interact in the music of the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli, specially composed for the acoustics of the large churches in Venice. These three Tenebrae by Victoria, published in 1585, are for four voices, to be sung on Good Friday, in the audiovisual context of the extinguishing of candles, which accompany the service into a final darkness.
Why transcribe these three Tenebrae by Victoria? In one of my music classes at university we were asked to compose a piece for voices in the contrapuntal style of the 16th century Italian composer Palestrina (1525-1594). I learned nothing from this fatuous exercise, yet at the same time I was fascinated by counterpoint. I decided to choose a piece from this golden age of contrapuntal music, and to transcribe it for wind quintet (the Music Department had a wind quintet). My model for the transcription was Anton Webern’s arrangement for orchestra of J.S. Bach’s Ricercar. His arrangement lifted key melodic motifs from the complex weave of Bach’s six voice fugue, enabling me to understand more clearly what Bach was up to in his intricate counterpoint. I was also fascinated by Webern’s use of a revolutionary musical technique, klangfarbenmelodie, in a tonal context. This compositional approach - the use of avant-garde techniques in a tonal and modal context, continues to be a source of inspiration and exploration in my music. I found this refreshing combination of the old and the new in the music and enthusiasms of the French-American avant-garde composer EdgardVarèse (1883-1965). I was surprised to learn that he conducted a choir. He was able to select for performance composers that he particularly admired, for example Tomás Luis de Victoria. So, in this way, I combined my frustration with the futile exercise we were set in class (to attempt to imitate Palestrina), with my admiration for Webern’s transcription, as well as the music and ideas of EdgardVarèse, who in turn led me to the extraordinary music of Victoria. Through various transcription techniques, I was able to learn (amongst other things) how Victoria sets up patterns of tension and release, varieties of harmonic and vocal colours, close interactions between his rhythms and harmonies. These transcriptions prompted the idea that the creative impulse is born of a combination of frustration and admiration. The powerful tension between these two opposite extremes lights the spark of inspiration. And if you want to understand how something works, take it apart! Break it up! Explode it! Then put it back together - rebuild it in a transcription! You will become aware of important elements you hadn’t noticed before in the music, which are vital to how and why the piece you have transcribed is successful in its expression.