Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus was written in 1576 when
the composer was the Maestro di Cappella at the Collegio Germanico.
Victoria also taught the German seminarians music, conversing
with them in Latin. We may thus suppose that this six-part mass
probably had its origins in music that Victoria wrote to be
sung in the college, where we might assume that it was sung
by an all-male group of talented musical seminarians. Though
the Sistine Chapel used castrati on the top two lines of the
choir, the Spanish Royal Chapels tended to use falsettists and
we must assume that smaller chapels might have done likewise.
I bring up this matter of who might have sung the mass because
on this new recording from Westminster Cathedral, the Lay Clerks
of the Cathedral Choir have recorded the mass under the direction
of Matthew Martin. They sing without boys, assigning the six
voices of the mass to AATTBB in entirely convincing fashion.
The mass is based on a motet by Morales, Jubilate Deo omnis
terra. Morales uses the plainchant proper Gaudeamus omnes
as a cantus firmus. Victoria does the same - hence the name
of the mass. So that, for example, in the Kyrie the chant is
assigned to the second tenor part and in the second (and concluding)
Agnus Dei the second alto part uses the Gaudeamus chant
(in long notes). An additional baritone part forms a canon at
the octave - a suitably rich conclusion to a wonderful mass.
The proper Gaudeamus omnes is used as Introit on a number
of festivals including the Feast of the Assumption. Taking their
cue from this Matthew Martin and his singers have assembled
a programme of polyphony and chant which covers both the Propers
and Ordinary for the Feast of the Assumption, interspersed with
organ music by Frescobaldi. The result makes a supremely satisfying
whole, displaying the polyphony embedded in chant rather than
as a found object all on its own. The programme is completed
with Victoria's substantial motet, Vidi speciosam,
which takes its text from the first Responsory at Matins for
the Feast of the Assumption.
This is no archaeological reconstruction, neither in content
nor in style of performance. Regarding content, the music is
that which might have been sung for the Feast of the Assumption
during Victoria's lifetime, but represents no particular
historical occasion. Regarding the style of performance, it
must be borne in mind that the Lay Clerks sing chant and polyphony
at Westminster Cathedral on a regular basis, with an ethos and
style which has as its basis the reforms of the monks of Solesmes
at the end of the nineteenth century. The way they sing plainchant
is probably quite different to the chant singing in sixteenth
But the sheer fact that the Lay Clerks sing regularly at Mass
means that their performance has many indefinable characteristics
which arise out of the use of chant within the liturgy. Simply,
they sound as if they have been singing plainchant all their
lives and that the chant means something. This is an important
point. Whilst there is music to admire in their performance,
choirs such as that at Westminster cannot always provide music-making
on an exalted scale as the Tallis Scholars. Instead we get the
benefit that the effect of a regular diet of chant within the
To consider the mass performance first; the choir makes a strong
rich sound. They sing with a notably good sense of line and
a feeling for the ebb and flow of the polyphony, but this is
no coolly perfect performance. Individual voices are evident
and you get the feeling that this is a group of individuals
rather than an ensemble where individual sound is completely
subjugated to the sound of the total ensemble. That said, there
is something rather English in the rapt perfection of the performance.
I would imagine that if sung by one of the contemporary Italian
groups, vocal lines would be rather more vividly vibrant.
The group seems to have been recorded relatively closely, capturing
their rich sound before it evaporates into the vastness of the
Cathedral. This disc definitely does not reflect the sound you
would hear if you were sat in the nave, but rather that you
would probably hear it if sitting in the apse with the choir.
The mass has rather a dark texture - Tess Knighton in her Gramophone
review of Andrew Carwood's recording describes the mass as being
dark as chocolate. There are moments when voices are pushed
towards their limit, notably the first altos and first tenors,
but this is never unpleasant and somehow adds to the passionate
effect of the performance.
Victoria's motet Vide Speciosam is split into its
two parts and one sung as an offertory motet, the other as communion.
The motet is less elaborately polyphonic than the mass and makes
a good foil.
The surrounding plainchant is what makes a fine performance
into something special. Besides all the propers, the disc also
includes the Epistle and Gospel (both sung) as well as the Pater
Noster. The Lay Clerks way with plainchant is both mellifluous
and involving; this is the sort of disc I could imagine giving
to someone to convince of the beauties of chant.
The four Frescobaldi organ pieces, played by Thomas Wilson,
provide a welcome breath of fresh air through the proceedings.
The final organ piece, Recercar: Sancta Maria adds fifth
sung part to the four-part organ texture; the organ plays close
textured imitative writing based on the Gaudeamus chant
and the voices sing this to the words Sancta Maria, ora pro
Missa Gaudeamus has been recorded by the Cardinall's
Musick, under Andrew Carwood, where they couple the mass with
the Missa pro Victoria and motets. Carwood uses women
on the top two lines, as might be expected.
For the motet, Vidi Speciosam, the choir are in competition
with themselves as a 1985 disc, under David Hill, coupled the
motet with the mass of the same name, and they also recorded
it in 1973 under Colin Mawby.
The CD booklet includes a long note on the music, which includes
pointers to the liturgy for those unfamiliar, plus texts in
English and Latin.
see also review by Brian