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Lockdown project 1: Versa est in luctum

Updated: May 14, 2021

Composed upon the death of Philip II of Spain in 1598, Versa est in luctum is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest pieces of the Renaissance era. It is possible that it was sung at the Missa pro defunctis (Requiem Mass) which concluded the mortuorum at San Jeronimo el Real, the church and monastery favoured by Philip in Madrid.

For millions of people the past few months have presented inconceivable challenges. For the choral world, the pandemic has meant no services, rehearsals, concerts, Easter & Holy Week, and all the social life and support that comes with it. At a practical level, numerous choirs are facing significant financial hardship, with mass redundancies, closure of choir schools, and the threat of a total transformation of the choral landscape. This, for many has been on top of the horrifying effects of this disease.

Lobo’s masterpiece is one of the most perfect articulations of grief in the Classical canon. It’s cascading and unrelenting lines sweep both listener and singer along in an all-encompassing well of beautiful harmony. Yet, for musicians, it is the musical imagery of the text which makes it all the more poignant a piece.

Lobo winds up the lines with a final cadence using the Picardie third. Whilst this is of course conventional, it seems to accentuate the solace of the mercy of God. This mercy, in the context of six minutes of largely dissonant harmonies, comes as respite.

We sincerely hope that you glimpse something of this solace in this beautiful work.

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