Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories

We encourage all families to spend time in meditation with this video throughout the Triduum.


Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548 – 27 August 1611) was the most famous composer in 16th-century Spain, and was one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Perluigi Palestrina. Victoria was not only a composer but also an accomplished organist, singer and priest.

Victoria composed his Tenebrae Responsories about twenty years after the conclusion of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was held in response to the Reformation. In 1570, St. Pius V promulgated the Roman Missal, which was in force for 400 years.  At the time, there was a need for liturgical reform, as many of the liturgies had become more like concerts, with polyphony dominating and frequently distracting from the act of worship. It is in this context that Victoria composed much of his music.

Sebastian Modarelli, Director of Music and Liturgy for the Co-Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Rochester, Minnesota, offers us some background on this piece and its importance for us today:

“The Tenebrae Responsories arose in 1585, shortly after an important moment in history. Polyphony had become an end in itself. The text was no longer intelligible, and the music distracted from the liturgy. This is what moved the Church and the pope at the Council of Trent (1562-1563) close to the decision of removing music from the liturgy–because it distracted from the liturgy. It is said that Palestrina (who may have been Victoria’s teacher) composed a Mass for the pope (Missa Papae Marcelli) that convinced him to keep polyphony in the Mass.

Palestrina, and Victoria after him, chose to privilege the intelligibility of the text. The text is no longer a sound pretext to do what you want to do. The music is at the service of the text. The fact that you need to obey the text, to be subject to what the text is expressing, made the text more clear and the music more beautiful. This kind of polyphony … announces the word. It is miracle music.

For this reason, we should not dismiss [this] … as a whim or preference. This music makes you enter into Holy Week. …The Lord gave us this music for a reason.”

We hope you enjoy it.