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Rose Ensemble, Voces8 to perform Renaissance choral music this weekend

Ever heard of Tomás Luis de Victoria? I have — and how.

When I was a college student in the 1960s, the head of the music department at the school I attended wrote his Ph.D. thesis on Victoria, a Spanish composer who lived in the time of Shakespeare during the last half of the 16th century. Needless to say, all discussions of music from the late Renaissance — especially church music — centered around Victoria.

My professor argued that Victoria had been unjustly neglected, overshadowed by composers like Giovanni da Palestrina. Well, time has vindicated both my professor and Victoria, who is now considered one of the giants of counter-reformation composers. The professor, Eugene C. Cramer, is also considered one of the preeminent authorities on Victoria.

It is believed that Victoria studied — or at least was influenced by — Palestrina when both were working in Rome, where Victoria eventually became a priest. Even so, as my professor always pointed out, their styles were markedly different. Victoria’s harmonies, though gloriously thick and soaring like Palestrina’s, are much more daring — though not as crazily chromatic as his contemporary, Carlo Gesualdo (who is probably just as famous for slaughtering his wife and her lover — oh, those Italians!).

Anyway, you’ll have the chance to hear both Palestrina and Victoria if you attend this weekend’s concerts by the Rose Ensemble, the St. Paul-based professional chamber singing group. Their program, titled “Voices of Venice & Rome,” features a guest group, the London-based Voces8.

On the program are excerpts from Palestrina’s famous Missa Papae Marcelli, a Mass composed in memory of Pope Marcellus II, whose reign in the 16th century lasted less than three weeks. He is remembered, maybe, as the last Pope to use his own name (Marcello Spannochi) after his accession to St. Peter’s throne. You can hear a sample here.

In addition to Victoria, other composers on the program of Renaissance music for multiple vocal parts include works by Gabrieli. All concerts will be illuminated by votive candlelight.

“Voices of Venice & Rome,” Rose Ensemble. Performances are Friday at the Church of Christ the King in Southwest Minneapolis, Saturday at the downtown Basilica of St. Mary and Sunday at St. Mary’s Chapel on the campus of the St. Paul Seminary. For details and tickets, go here.

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