The greatest Spanish Renaissance composer, Victoria also ranks alongside Palestrina as one of the greatest European composers of church music. He is particularly admired for his parody masses and motets, two of the best known being O vos ommes and O magnum mysterium.
Born in 1548, Victoria learnt the basics of music as a choirboy at Avila Cathedral under such leading Spanish musicians as Bernardino de Ribera and Juan Navarro. After his voice matured, Victoria was sent to the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome, probably in 1565. Palestrina was, at the time, maestro di cappella of the nearby Seminario Romano and may have taught the young Spaniard.
From January 1569 Victoria was a singer and organist at S Maria di Moserrato and also held other posts, teaching music to the boarders at the Collegio Germanico. In 1573 the Italian boarders were separated from the German seminarians. At the parting ceremony, Victoria's specially-composed eight-part psalm Super flumina Babylonis was sung. After the reorganisation, Victoria was appointed maestro de cappella, a post he held until 1576. In 1575 he graduated to the priesthood.
Victoria joined a community of lay priests led by Filippo Neri and on 8 June 1578 he received a chaplaincy at S Giorolamo della Carità. In these years he published five volumes of music including Hymns, Magnificat settings and masses, motets and an Office for Holy Week. In 1583 he was elected to the office of visitor to the sick and destitute Spanish in Rome.
Victoria was anxious to return home to Spain and lead a quiet life fulfilling his holy orders. As a reward for the dedication of Messarum libri duo (1583) to Philip II, the King named him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, who lived at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de S Clara at Madrid. Victoria served as chaplain from 1587 until her death in 1603, but stayed on as maestro of the choir and later, just as organist. Victoria led a comfortable life at the convent and could not be tempted by offers of cathedral posts. He died on 20 August 1611 and was buried at the convent.
Although he wrote a limited number of works (many were published in several luxurious collections) and only set sacred Latin texts, most of his output survives. His music is characterised by the liberal use of instruments to double vocal lines, and his sunny disposition is evident from the motets that he chose as the basis for his parody masses.
Related composers: Palestrina