About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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“Except the psalms or canonical Scriptures of the new and old Testaments, nothing composed poetically shall be sung in church, as the holy canons command.”
— Council of Braga, 563AD

Too Many Sopranos? Try This Canon!
published 9 August 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

ANY CHOIRMASTERS COMPLAIN about having too many sopranos, but perhaps they should explore the vast repertoire written for SSATB, such as the following piece by Fr. Tomás Luis de Victoria (d. 1611). The Soprano parts form a perfect canon, which is without question 1 the most daunting of all techniques. This Motet could be used in various ways, and the text is an antiphon from the Transfiguration (August 6th). It seems especially fitting for use at BENEDICTION of the Blessed Sacrament.

Listen to the following section, with Tenor & Bass muted:

It creates a marvelous effect, doesn’t it? The Alto is a real killer in a few sections—but that always happens in major league canonic pieces like this one, because composers need to make sure the counterpoint “lines up.” If your altos are running out of breath, sing through the line yourself (SEE BELOW) before criticizing them!

A FRIEND OF MINE helped record the full piece, giving our readers an idea how it sounds:

    * *  PDF Download • “RESPLENDUIT FACIES” (T. L. de Victoria)


EQUAL VOICES : YouTube   •   Mp3 Audio

FIRST SOPRANO : YouTube   •   Audio

SECOND SOPRANO : YouTube   •   Audio

ALTO : YouTube   •   Audio

TENOR : YouTube   •   Audio

BASS : YouTube   •   Audio

The original part books give a special sign for when the Canon begins and ends, but as far as I can tell they don’t provide notation for the Second Soprano during the final four measures. I’d be curious to know how the singers knew which pitches to sing for those measures.

The motet’s beginning is quite special because it sounds “radiant”—for obvious reasons. 2


1   Needless to say, I’m speaking of canons which follow the rules; any fool can write one that doesn’t follow the rules.

2   The numerous consonants during the first section may have been intentionally placed to create a kind of percussive effect (cf. “sicut nix”), but to be honest my ears are relieved when the section is over.