Tomás Luis de Victoria - O Magnum Mysterium The Sixteen
After listening to the video clips above, create your initial discussion post answering the following discussion questions: In what ways does this music differ from contemporary music? What specific musical qualities make it different? How does it reflect different ideals (artistic, religious, social, etc.) of that historical period compared to today?
O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria is a unique piece in the composition of choral music since time immemorial. It is such a distinct piece, created with consideration to fit its social setting, yet still resonating perfectly with the Christmas session, especially in the Catholic faith today. The piece was composed as a Christmas song, portraying the mystery around the birth of Christ. It was published at a time when people greatly fancied the mystery of the birth of Christ, including the event where animals also recognized that the birth was a critical event for life. This fact is embedded in the lyrics of the composition to paint a picture of the animals and the people as they were filled with awe at the humble unveiling of the Savior.
The piece is characterized by an electric tone from start to the end, unlike contemporary music which begins at a low tone and ends with a climax. The mystery is also enhanced by the smooth transition of harmonies, from major to minor. The listener’s awe continues with the continuous use of the open 5th interval that has no harmonic indication. Hence, there is suspense all through while listening to the song. In addition, there is a great emphasis on the words, not just the melody, which is enhanced further by the slow rhythm that forces any listener to appreciate the beauty of the lyrical composition. Finally, the last distinction is how the composer manages to recreate the somber mood whenever one listens to the song. Unlike contemporary compositions where different voices sing at the same time, this piece rarely has the voices singing together. Instead, the voices echo and imitate each other all through the song, creating an engaging atmosphere as it sends shivers to the listener to announce the happening of a crucial event. Thus, while old, the composition remains timeless in its implementation.