Together with Francisco Guerrero’s, Tomás Luis de Victoria’s double-choir setting of the Ave Maria (the only one actually by him) is probably one the “Ave Maria” settings from Iberian composers which I like more (although D. Pedro de Cristo’s setting is also sumptuous). This eight-voice setting closes his first publication, the 1572 Motecta (Venice at Angelo Gardano) is intended for the Feast of the Annunciation. It must of been one of Victoria’s favorites for he published it, together with an organ part, in an anthology, published in Madrid in 1600.
The music begins with the same passage, which brilliantly exposes an allusion to the plainchant melody in the upper voice, is sung by the two choirs in turn. The music is colored by accidentals (e-flat against f-sharp), continuing this expressive use of accidental and utterly a diminished fourth (b-flat down to f-sharp), one of Victoria’s melodic gestures.
Word-painting is also, of course, present in words like “Jesus” in which we have the full eight voices singing. The final triple-time section shows a strident choral passage demanding the intercession (“ora pro nobis”) of the Virgin Mary. Victoria shows a facility in manipulating the vocal forces as also a powerfully directional affect.