Last couple of days I was preparing the edition of Alonso Lobo’s Versa est in luctum (for 6 vv.). The direct contact with this work reminded me of the great achievements of these Iberian composers, of the contrapuntal design and expressiveness one can extract from these works. The powerful emotions you get when you hear and work on the musical text cannot be compared to actually perform this work. I hope to sing it one day.
Lobo’s setting of the funeral motet Versa est in luctum was written for the funeral rites of the powerful Spanish ruler King Philip II (in 1598), being published in the composer’s Liber Primus Missarum (Madrid, 1602) with the title “Ad exequias Philip. II Cathol. Regis Hisp.”.
The comparison to Tomás Luis de Victoria’s setting is inevitably. Victoria’s setting of Versa est was written five years later for the funeral of Philip’s sister Dowager Empress Maria, in 1603. This motet is incorporated in one of the masterpieces of late Renaissance music: theOfficium Defunctorum a 6 (1605).
In Spanish liturgical tradition, at the end of a pro defunctis mass a sermon was preached before the last rites. In some cases, a motet was sung between the oration and the absolution. Lobo’s setting fits this context, although not part of the traditional Spanish liturgy, he must have found special inspiration in it, for few Spanish composers set texts outside the standard liturgy.
The work is for six voices (SSATTB) and can illustrate the characteristics of Spanish liturgical music of the time: intensifying the meaning of the text, according to the aims of the Counter-Reformation. Although Victoria goes further on this aspect, there is something almost dramatic in Lobo’s setting. Out of the choral mass, beautiful individual phrases emerge, as also bold homophonic internal gestures divert the forward motion somewhat. There is a intense texture, resulting from the present of the full choir almost from the beginning to the end of the piece. This version, by the Gabrieli Consort, has the particularity of being performed by a male choir, with countertenors singing the upper parts, which (as in other recordings) sound very smooth.