Tomás Luis de Victoria Biography

(One of the Most Famous Spanish Composers of the 16th-Century)

Born: 1548

Born In: Sanchidrián, Spain

Tomás Luis de Victoria was the most acclaimed Spanish composer of the Renaissance and one of the main composers of the late Renaissance along with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. His journey in music began as a choirboy in Ávila Cathedral. He was influenced by the music of Palestrina and possibly studied under the senior composer. He served as a teacher at the German College, as Maestro di Capella at S. Apollinare, and succeeded Palestrina as maestro at the Pontifical Roman Seminary. He was named chaplain to the Dowager Empress María, and worked at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de St. Clara for over two decades, first as chaplain to the Empress for 17 years till her death, and thereafter as organist of the convent. Reputed as the most important Spanish composer of the Counter-Reformation, Victoria devoted himself exclusively in church music and emerged as an imminent composer of the genre in the late Renaissance. He was known for the intensity of some of his motets and his rich oeuvre which among other works includes 21 masses and 44 motets, counted among the finest of that period, expressed his passion of Spanish mysticism and religion. He garnered admiration from Padre Martini for his melodic music and euphoric creations. Two of his most famous works include the Requiem Mass Officium Defunctorum, a masterpiece that he composed for Empress Maria; and Tenebrae Responsories, a set of eighteen motets.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 63


father: Francisco Luis de Victoria

mother: Francisca Suárez de la Concha

siblings: Juan Luis

Born Country: Spain

Composers Spanish Men

Died on: August 20, 1611

place of death: Madrid, Spain

Childhood & Early Life

Tomás Luis de Victoria was born around 1548 in Sanchidrián in the province of Ávila, Castile to Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la Concha as their seventh child among nine children. His father died in 1557 following which his uncle, Juan Luis, became his guardian.

Victoria became a choirboy in the Cathedral of the Saviour, a Catholic church in Ávila. According to the Cathedral records, Victoria's Liber Primus was presented to the Church by his uncle Juan Luis, who reminded them that the boy was brought up in the Avila Cathedral. It is often believed that Victoria, a skilled organist, learnt to play the keyboard at an early age under a teacher in Avila. He possibly started his studies in the classics at St. Giles's, a reputed school for boys in Ávila.

Although no firm evidence has been found so far, it is often speculated that Spanish composer Escobedo taught Victoria at an early age before the latter relocated to Rome. Victoria was influenced by the magnificent madrigals, instead of sacred music, of the Italian composers Giovanni Maria Nanino and Luca Marenzioc.

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In 1565, Victoria received a grant from King of Spain Philip II and went to Rome. There he became a cantor at the German-speaking seminary for Catholic priests called Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum, or Collegium Germanicum (German College), founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. Circumstantial evidences suggest that around this time Victoria probably studied under noted Italian Renaissance composer of Church music and Renaissance master of counterpoint Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Nevertheless, he was influenced by the style of the senior composer. The motets Victoria composed in 1572, including O magnum mysterium, Vere languores and O vos omnes, reflected the detail technique of Palestrina. Victoria also succeeded Palestrina as director of music of the Roman Seminary and held the position for some time in 1573.

Meanwhile Victoria was inducted as a teacher at the German College in 1571 which led him to earn his first regular income. The college changed its location several times and in 1575, Pope Gregory XIII gave it charge of the services in the adjoining church. Music performed by the students under Victoria and other distinguished masters added with the grandeur of the functions drew crowds to the church in large numbers.

In 1574, Bishop Thomas Goldwell ordained Victoria as a priest after the latter served as a deacon for some time. The following year he became Maestro di Capella at S. Apollinare where the church officials, who respected him for his skill and knowledge, often took his opinion on appointments to different positions in the cathedral. Eventually Victoria made his professional debut as an organist, however remained dedicated to his position as convent organist.

He composed a book of Masses and published it in 1583. It was reprinted in 1592 and included a Missa pro defunctis for four-part choir.

He penned down his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, a repertoire consisting of thirty-seven pieces that form part of the Holy Week celebrations in the Catholic liturgy. These included the eighteen motets of the Tenebrae Responsories, a set of motets for four voices a cappella. The compositions were published in 1585 in Rome.

Victoria wanted to return to Spain and when Philip II heard about this, the King made the composer chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress María in 1587. By that time the retired Empress had settled with her daughter Princess Margaret, a nun, in the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Victoria came under the patronage of the Empress and served her as chaplain for 17 years till her death and thereafter he worked at the convent as its organist for the rest of his life. The remuneration he received at the Descalzas Reales was comparatively much more than what he would have earned as a cathedral chapelmaster. From 1587 till his death, Victoria was paid an annual income from absentee benefices. The composer maintained that he refused to receive any extra pay as a chapelmaster, and became organist instead of chapelmaster. He was held in high regards and his contract was made in such a manner that he could travel frequently from the convent. In 1593, he visited Rome and stayed there for two years and such stay allowed him to attend funeral of Palestrina in 1594.

Empress Maria left a will when she died on February 26, 1603. She willed three chaplaincies in the convent out of which one went to Victoria. Victoria composed Officium Defunctorum, a Requiem Mass for the funeral of the Empress and dedicated it to her daughter, Princess Margaret. The masterpiece, a musical setting of the Office of the Dead, published in 1605 is often referred to as Victoria’s Requiem and is considered as the most famous work of the composer. Scored for six-part SSATTB chorus, the work includes an entire Office of the Dead besides a Requiem Mass, settings of the movements of which accounts for about 26 minutes of the 42 minute composition.

His works included intricate portions for the voices while the organ played a major role in many of his choral compositions where it was given separate sections in the pieces akin to a soloist. Although he did not initiate the development of psalm settings or antiphons for two choirs, he made these more popular.

According to Victoria, he spawned his most creative pieces under the patronage of Otto, Cardinal von Truchsess. American musicologist Robert Stevenson however expressed his incredulity on the information that Victoria learned everything about music under the patronage of Cardinal Truchsess and commented that the composer actually wanted people to believe it. Victoria was not compensated appropriately for most of the pieces that he wrote for and dedicated to either Philip II of Spain or Cardinal Michele Bonelli, or Pope Gregory XIII.

Victoria preferred using simple lines and homophonic textures in his music and avoided use of intricate counterpoint seen in works of many of his contemporaries. He also used tone painting in some of his works. Uses of instruments were also seen in some of his church music

Rich oeuvre of Victoria, which was distributed extensively, reprinted several times and highly appreciated from his time till present, includes 21 masses and 44 motets besides several magnificats, psalm settings, hymns, passions, lamentations, canticles, Tenebrae Responsories and sequences. A total of 11 volumes of his music were published during his lifetime. Of these Officium Defunctorum, that marked as the last work published by the virtuoso was the only work that was published by itself

Reputation, Death & Legacy

Considered the leading Spanish composer of Counter-Reformation and one of the famous composers of church music during the late Renaissance, Victoria dedicated himself in composing music in the sacred genre. Noted Italian composer Padre Martini, a mentor of Mozart, praised Victoria for his melodious and euphoric compositions that often reflected his personality besides his passion for Spanish mysticism and religion. Several commentators noted a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal in the music of Victoria which they consider to be missing in the music of Palestrina.

Victoria passed away in the chaplain's residence on August 20, 1611, and was interred at the convent. His works enjoyed a revival during the 20th century and witnessed several recent recordings. Ten CD boxes of his works were released at the beginning of the 21st century to mark the 500th death anniversary of the virtuoso. 

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