Madrid 1585-1611


In 1583, Victoria began looking for the manner to return to Spain. Several important cathedrals in Spain had made him very attractive offers in return for his services, but he declined every one. Victoria knew what he wanted first and foremost: a calm and tranquil existence, similar to the life he had led in San Girolamo during his last years in Rome, in order to fully devote himself to his music with no distractions.  

He received offers from the Cathedrals of Seville and Zaragoza. It also happened that the Cathedral in Avila was looking for a new maestro di capella in 1587 to replace the disastrous Hernando de Issasi, but they did not even attempt to recruit the Avila native for the position. Perhaps someone from the canonry of the Cathedral knew Victoria well and was aware that his intentions were quite different.

It is highly possible that Victoria made a visit to Avila as soon as he returned to Spain, as his older brother Hernán and his mother Francisco resided in Sanchidrián. He may even have gone to visit his uncle Juan Luis in Valladolid, as the uncle had done much for him throughout his childhood and youth. This would explain the lack of information on Victoria's life from May 1585, when he left Rome, until 1586, when he took over his new position.


Joanna of Austria, sister to King Philip II, founded the convent of Las Descalzas Reales, bringing Clarissan nuns there in 1559. Mary of Austria, a devoutly religious woman of intense personality and sister of the Joanna and of Philip II, entered the convent in 1581 when she was widowed. Musical activity in the convent was regulated by the statutes created in 1571 by the convent's founder, Joanna of Austria, to which certain additions were made by Philip II in 1578, and Philip III in 1601. Despite being a nuns' convent, the nuns had no mediation in the music for worship. Liturgy and mass were under the responsibility of a group of priests who presided over the ceremonies as clergy while acting as cantors at the same time, creating a veritable chapel of music.


The position for which Tomás Luis de Victoria had been named had nothing at all to do with this music chapel. Upon leaving the convent, Empress Mary decided to establish a series of personal chaplains to attend to her private worshiping needs and those of her entourage. Both Agustín and Tomás were personal chaplains to the Empress, and therefore had no relation to the other priests, at least in theory. In practice, however, Tomás began to act as a true maestro di capella, although he he had not been officially appointed. So we can confirm that Victoria was maestro di capella in one of the finest music chapels in Madrid, where highly influential members of society attended worship, including members of the aristocracy and Kings Philip II and Philip III themselves, who visited the convent assiduously and there attended worship, brilliantly led by the finest musician of the moment in Spain. Working only temporarily, Victoria had more freedom, and he took generous license from his patron and protector Lady Mary to travel frequently.  


In 1592 Victoria requested and obtained permission from the empress to make a long journey: a return to Rome. One of the matters that Victoria wished to attend to there was the personal supervision of a new edition of his works, which would be the first published fruits of his work in Madrid. Upon his return, Victoria returned to his place in the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales and, judging by his own words, his obligations were myriad. He had little time even for composing, for which reason he required the help of "many people who would strive with me with valor to ensure that any moment I was free from my daily occupations could be devoted to this task." In addition to the worship services in which he should participate both morning and evening, he devoted a great deal of time and interest to his economic affairs, sale of his works, correspondence, etc., and what remaining time he had was divided between his family life and composing. During these years in Madrid he published a large body of work. He also dedicated time to his economic affairs, sending his books to cathedrals in exchange for economic compensation. His presence was frequently required to advise the council of canons on the selection of candidates for maestro di capella and organist.

But Victoria's placid situation in Las Descalzas Reales was soon to change radically after the illness and death of Empress Mary in 1603. It would be logical to think that if Victoria had already composed his Requiem, the mass of the dead written for the empress, it could have been interpreted on this occasion, especially since more than 20 days had passed since the death of the empress, during which time it could have been prepared and rehearsed. The Requiem was published in 1605, two years following the death of the empress.  


Upon the empress’s death, Victoria elected not to continue with his functions as interim maestro di capella that he had been performing until 1603. Starting in 1604 he began to perform two tasks: he practiced as a priest in one of the three chaplaincies that the empress had left in place as a reward for her most faithful priests, one of whom had clearly been Victoria.  The second was as organist in the convent. He had requested and obtained this position because it was a way to remain immersed in the musical world of the convent after having left his role as maestro di capella. In 1600 he had published his polychoral work with a book of scores for organ, and his current position as organist gave him the opportunity to experiment with these new sounds. He set in motion and supervised the construction of the new organ that was built in Las Descalzas during these years.  

Tomás Luis de Victoria was becoming gradually weaker, and he began to delegate in his assistant, Bernardo Pérez de Medrano, with greater frequency. Pérez de Medrano substituted Victoria at the organ when he was unable to attend due to illness or other causes. Tomás Luis de Victoria died on 27 August 1611. Because the convent of Las Descalzas Reales pertained to the jurisdiction of the parish of San Ginés, his death certificate is lodged there.


ANA SABE ANDREU (Translation: Colleen Terry)