While editing the church bulletin, I put in the CD player the wonderful Requiem Mass by the Portuguese composer Duarte Lôbo (c.1565-1646; a namesake of mine, since his name was latinized as Eduardus Lupus).
Four years ago, I was totally ignorant of Renaissance polyphony. Of course I intended one day to get acquainted with it, since I was (and still am) a Baroque music buff, and I always wanted to expand my musical horizons; and especially, because I was curious. The main problem was that here (Asunción, Paraguay) is not easy to get that kind of music, or, for that matter, anything that is not part of the musical mainstream.
One day I noticed in the newsstands installments of an encyclopaedia about Sacred Music. Each installment would come with a CD (from the labels Philips, Decca, and another one that I cannot recall now, only that it wasn’t Deutsche Grammophon). The CDs were rebranded and with most liner notes stripped out, but they were original recordings, many of them of historical quality, and with a remarkable period breadth.
One of the installments carried the Requiem Mass by Tomás Luis de Victoria. I listened to it as a matter of course, not expecting too much from it. By the time I was in Track 2 I was hooked for life: Renaissance Sacred Polyphony was among the most beautiful musical expressions of our culture. And so is this recording, superbly done by the Tallis Scholars led by Peter Philips.
Duarte Lôbo was one of the most prolific Portuguese composers at a time when Portugual was politically dependent on the Kingdom of Spain, and therefore his music shows a lot of Spanish influence, especially from Victoria. The music is, of course, a Mass that you were supposed to sing in order to pray for the dead, and while there are many Bible verses that speak of hope and comfort, there are many unbiblical prayers and sayings proper to Roman Catholicism.
However, the Spanish Requiem Masses were an exercise in translating hope into musical terms; and Lôbo’s mass is not an exception. The Mass is rendered in a major key, and the whole setting is luminous and clear, almost feeling like a musical embrace of some sort. The Scholars sing through the score almost flawlessly, transmiting the soothing and uplifting music directly to your heart. And there are moments especially pungent, such as in the Introito or the Kyrie eleison, when you could almost feel the composer as a sinner humbling himself before our Lord, begging for mercy and for his life, but also with the firm conviction that he is addressing a Lord that is not only just, but merciful.
It’s an experience almost mystical in its depths, and heavenly in its quality, and very difficult to translate in words. There were so many times when, while listening to the Kyrie, I would lift my hands to heaven, silently praying and enjoying the presence of my Savior; and perhaps with a tear or two shed by the way.
It goes without saying that the recording is thoroughly recommended. You can go and read the fine liner notes put together by Gimell Records here.