José de Torres’s Missarum Liber

Spanish composer, organist, theorist and printer José (or Joseph) de Torres y Martínez Bravo was an important composer of the second half of the seventeenth century and beginnings of the eighteenth, his prestige being recognized not only in Spain but also in Portugal, England, Italy and the New World. He was born in Madrid, probably in 1670, and died in the same city on June 3rd 1738. Torres’s life spans the same period of the musical activity of the two composers that comprise my PhD thesis: Diogo Dias Malgaz and Pedro Vaz Rego, who were active at Évora Cathedral.

Torres studied at the Choirboys School of the Royal Chapter around 1680, also studying composition by the master of the Royal Chapel Cristóbal Galán. It is assumed that he also underwent organ studies in Daroca with Pablo Bruna. He was appointed organist of the Royal Chapel on December 14th 1686 and as a teacher of the choirboys from 1689 to 1691. He was temporarily chapel master from 1708 and officially appointed on December 3rd 1718. A fire in the Alcázar of Madrid in 1734 forced Torres and Antonio Literes to compose intensively in order to recover and replace the music repertoire lost during the fire.

Torres founded a printing workshop – the Imprenta de Música – where he printed several music treatises of the time and of previous authors such as Francisco de Montanos’s El arte de canto llano y de órgano (1592). He first published Juan de Navas’s Destino vencen finezas in 1699 and in 1702 his treatise Reglas generals de acompañar, en órgano, clavicordio y harpa among with around 30 works by composers such as Sebástian Durón, Nassare, Antonio Martín y Coll among others.Torres - Missarum Liber (1703)

As a composer I have been particularly interest in Torres’s liturgical music, which makes the most of his music output, centred in his so-called “first period” of composition before his appointment as master of the Royal Chapel, a time where he wrote mostly imitative polyphony. It was during this time he published his Missarum liber, printed in his Imprenta de Música in 1703. This book had a widespread circulation in Spain during his life. It contained masses from four to eight voices written in a classical a capella style reminiscent of the late-sixteenth-century and early-seventeenth-century Spanish polyphonic masters. He employed musical devices that were considered obsolete in the beginning of the eighteenth century such as intricate canonic forms, which nevertheless serve to illustrate his solid technical knowledge. He was also a composer of transition adding instrumental parts to later compositions in various combinations leaning gradually towards a more international style of Italian influence.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any recording of works from this book of masses on YouTube. But the funerary motet Versa est in luctum seems to be adequate as to illustrate Torres’s polyphonic style. It is from a later period (1724) when he composer mostly stile concertato works, such as the Missa Defunctorum ad Exequias Ludovici Primi Regis, for double choir, soloists and orchestra.



One Comment Add yours

  1. This is beautiful music.

    Liked by 1 person

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