Midway through the 16th century, when Tomás Luis de Victoria was born, Ávila was at its economic height, with more than 10,000 residents. It was a medium- to large-sized city, quite similar to other neighboring Castilian cities.
A large part of the population was devoted to handicrafts and trade, including the Luis-Victoria family, who leaned towards the service sector with lawyers, scriveners and bankers among their members. The barrio or cuadrilla de San Juan, situated within the walls at the highest part of the city, was the area where noblemen, bureaucrats, merchants and artisans gathered, in particular those who worked in the clothing and tailoring industry, with which the Luis-Victoria family was closely related.
During the 16th century the city expanded and was beautified with the construction of new buildings, public fountains and water drainage systems, the cleaning up and paving of streets, and so on, in a period of economic growth that permeated everything around.
One key document regarding Victoria’s paternal family has been found: the last will and testament of his paternal grandfather, Hernán Luis Dávila, which has been preserved in the Provincial Historical Archives of Ávila. Hernán Luis Dávila was a tailor and a seller of cloth. As a salesman he traveled to the local fairs in Medina del Campo, Segovia and Ávila. He also owned lands in various towns belonging to the province of Ávila.
Married to Leonor de Victoria, both died in 1545, so they never met their grandson Tomás. This couple is important, as Tomás took the surnames of both of his paternal grandparents, following the custom of the time which allowed one to freely select and combine surnames from one’s most direct relatives.
Hernán Luis and Leonor de Victoria had seven children, the oldest of which, Francisco Luis de Victoria, was the father of Tomás.
Less is known of Tomás’s maternal side of the family. According to F. Hernández, Tomás’s maternal grandparents were Antonio Suárez and Beatriz Suárez, who came from wealthy Segovian families who worked in the textile industry. However, the opinion of the Marquis of Lozoya seems better documented on this point, and establishes Pedro de la Concha and his wife, Elvira Xuarez, as founders of the bloodline. It is believed that they were from Llerena, Badajoz, although they moved to Segovia in 1496.
Francisco Luis de Victoria, our musician’s father, was the first child of Hernán Luis and so received the largest part of his legacy: one third of all of his property and assets, an estate and homes in Sanchidrián, land in various municipalities and, more importantly, the family homes in calle Caballeros in Ávila. Francisco also inherited the title of Notary Public, thus positioning his family in a very advantageous economic situation.
Francisco was married to Francisca Suárez de la Concha, a Segovian native and heiress to her parents’ legacy in 1544. Francisco and Francisca were married in Ávila in 1540. They bore eleven children, of which Tomás was the seventh.
The exact date of Tomás Luis’s birth is one of the most controversial points of his biography. No birth certificate has been found certifying the exact date, but today, and thanks to the research of Ferreol Hernández, we can be almost certain that it was in 1548.
So Tomás was born in 1548, and we now are presented with a curious question: what is his real name? We have already established that Luis is the surname inherited from the paternal side of the family, rather than a first name. As no certificate of baptism or other written documents of his early years can testify to his true name, we have to look to later documents to discover that Tomás is, in truth, Tome, or as he himself was wont to write, Thome.
As far as his birthplace, there are more than ample indications that allow us to confirm that he was born in the capital of Ávila. Tomás was born in the family home, which had been bought by his grandfather, Hernán Luis Dávila. It comprised a patio, corridors, food storage areas, a stable, a wine cellar and other separate rooms. Francisco Luis inherited this home in 1545 and lived there with his family until 1557, when he passed away. It is therefore assumed that Tomás was born in this house, which Ferreol Hernández places in what is now calle Caballeros, at the corner of calle Pedro Lagasca and backing up to calle Cuchillería.
Tomás Luis was a choirboy in the Cathedral of Ávila. No historian questions this fact, although it has not been fully documented. Logic says that Victoria could not have found any other place to receive his musical education, as there was no other place in Ávila where he could have acquired such extensive musical knowledge. Starting out as a choirboy was quite common among musicians, especially for those destined to become maestros de capilla or composers.
Tomás would have entered the cathedral in 1557 or in early 1558, primarily because that was when he would have been of the proper age: 9 or 10 years old. This date is also highly likely because Tomás’s father died in 1557, leaving the family completely destitute. Everyone had to move and look for work, and it is logical to think that Tomás’s musical talents led the family to believe that an ecclesiastic path would be the best for him. Awaiting the time when the child could decide for himself, they placed him in the cathedral as a choirboy, as he had by then shown great talent and interest in music.
The maestros he had in Ávila were his true musical mentors and had the greatest impact on his style. Jerónimo de Espinar was the first maestro de capilla that Tomás came into contact with, although only for a short time, as Espinar died in October 1558 and the two could not have spent more than one year together. While they waited for the new maestro to arrive, the prebendary trebe Dueñas was tasked by the chapter to teach the boys organ chant. He filled this position for nearly a year, which was a crucial year for Tomás as he was learning the essentials and cornerstone of his musical art.
Bernardino de Ribera took over the position in June, 1559. He was an eminent musician and his work with Victoria was key, as he was Tomás’s maestro for four years, from the time the student was 11 until he turned 14. Bernarbé de Águila was the organist at this time, and it was from him that Tomás Luis de Victoria learned to play the instrument. During Victoria’s later years, this was his primary love and activity. It was also the first paying job he had when he arrived in Rome. He liked playing the organ, and he was able to learn from Bernabé del Águila much more so than from Antonio de Cabezón, whom he was able to hear at most twice, in his two public performances in Ávila in 1552 and 1556, both too early for the young Tomás to derive any benefit from. Nonetheless, Cabezón lived in Ávila until 1560, albeit intermittently, and he may have given Tomás an early lesson. One of Victoria’s contemporaries was Sebastián de Vivanco, born in 1551 and so only three years younger than Tomás, and also a choirboy in the cathedral at the same time.
From a mid-16th century inventory, we know that Encinar had bought the masses of Josquin Desprez and the magnificats by Morales in 1550, and that these were available to Victoria. The town chapter had also acquired various works by Escobedo who, like Morales, had sung in the Papal Chapel in Rome and had returned to Spain, living in Segovia from 1552 until his death in 1564. During these years, Tomás Luis’s training was also related to the Italian minstrels who arrived at the cathedral in 1555. The Sardena brothers played chirimías, sackbuts and probably flutes. Victoria listened and sang with them, and they at times shared performances.
Finally, the Sevillian Juan Navarro arrived in Ávila on 26 February, 1564, to occupy the vacancy of maestro until 1566. It is not certain whether Victoria actually lived all of these extremes, as the date of his departure to Rome is also a point of dispute. Regardless of whether he left in 1565 or in 1567, he would have had little contact with Navarro and he was already thinking about the change he would make in moving to Italy.
ANA SABE ANDREU (Translation: Colleen Terry)