O vos omnes
(Tomás Luis de Victoria)
One of the most poignant texts of Holy Week comes from the Second Nocturn of Tenebræ Responsories for Holy Saturday:
O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte: Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.
O all ye that pass by, behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. [Lam 1:12]
These words can be heard as Christ's, as he hangs upon the Cross, or perhaps even more touchingly, as the Blessed Virgin's, as she beholds this terrible scene and eventually holds the dead body of her Son in her lap.
The liturgical setting of the text
Tenebræ service for Holy Saturday is composed of Matins and Lauds, during which 14 candles are extinguished one-by-one.
The Strepitus (loud noise), representing the cataclysm of the Crucifixion, closes the service.
The Psalm numbering is according to the Latin Vulgate
FIRST NOCTURN [Lamentations]
Antiphon- In pace
Antiphon- Habitat in tabernaculo
Antiphon- Caro mea
Versicle- In pace in idipsum
First Lesson- Lamentations 3:22-30
First Responsory- Sicut ovis
Second Lesson- Lamentations 4:1-6
Second Responsory- Jerusalem surge
Third Lesson- Lamentations 5:1-11
Third Responsory- Plange quasi virgo
SECOND NOCTURN [Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms]
Antiphon- Credo videre
Antiphon- Domine, abstraxisti
Versicle- Tu autem
First Lesson- from Saint Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 63
First Responsory- Recessit pastor noster fons aquae vivae
ad cuius transitum sol obscuratus est:
Nam et ille captus est, qui captivum tenebat primum hominem:
hodie portas mortis et seras pariter Salvator noster disrupit.
Versus: Destruxit quidem claustra inferni
et subvertit potentias diaboli.
Our Shepherd is departed, the fount of living water,
At whose passing the sun was darkened,
For even he was made captive who was holding captive the first man.
Today the gates of death and their bars as well our Savior has destroyed.
Verse: Indeed He has destroyed the strongholds of the underworld
And he has overthrown the powers of the devil.
Second Lesson- from Saint Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 63
Second Responsory- O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte:
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.
Versus: Attendite, universi populi, et videte dolorem meum.
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.
O all ye that pass by, behold and see
if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.
Verse: Behold, all people, and look at my sorrow:
if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.
Third Lesson- from Saint Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 63
Third Responsory- Ecce quomodo moritur justus
et nemo percipit corde:
et viri justi tolluntur
et nemo considerat.
A facie iniquitatis sublatus est justus
et erit in pace memoria eius.
Versus: Tamquam agnus coram tondente se obmutuit
et non aperuit os suum
de angustia et de judicio sublatus est.
Behold how the just man dies,
and nobody takes it to heart;
and just men are taken away,
and nobody considers it.
The just man is taken away from the face of iniquity,
and his memory shall be in peace.
Verse: He was dumb as a lamb before his shearer,
and opened not his mouth;
he was taken away from distress, and from judgment.
THIRD NOCTURN [Epistles]
Antiphon- Deus adjuvat me
Antiphon- In pace factus
Antiphon- Factus sum
Versicle- In pace factus est
First Lesson- Hebrews 9:11-14
First Responsory- Astiterunt reges terræ
Second Lesson- Hebrews 9:15-18
Second Responsory- Æstimatus sum
Third Lesson- Hebrews 5:4-10
Third Responsory- Sepulto Domino
Antiphon- O mors
Psalm- Psalm 50
Antiphon- Plangent eum
Psalm- Psalm 42
Psalms- Psalms 62 & 66
Antiphon- A porta inferni
Old Testament Canticle- Isaiah 38:10-20
Antiphon- O vos omnes qui transitis
Psalms- Psalm 148, 149 &150
Versicle- Caro mea
Antiphon- Mulieres sedentes
Benedictus- Luke 1:68-79
Response- Christus factus est
Prayer- Respice quæsumus
Strepitus [loud noise]
Various music scores are available for free download at Choral Public Domain Library.
Perhaps the easiest to read is this edition by James Gibb.
It appears in c minor, but could easily be pitched one, two or three half steps lower, depending on the low range of your altos.
Some wonderful YouTube videos exist of this work, among them:
These files were were very effectively recorded by Matthew Curtis.
They offer the full SATB version, and versions in which each voice part predominates — an easy practice tool!
By Timothy Dickey:
But the pathos of the musical product is extraordinary.
As a middle responsory in a group of three, the work exhibits vocal scoring slightly higher and more strident than those of its neighbors.
While many of the responsories open with pure homophony (chordal texture), O vos omnes is penetratingly asymmetrical, with single voices anticipating each entry or chord change.
Carefully placed accidentals infuse the melodies with half-steps (E-flat to D, often in immediate proximity to F-sharp and G).
Voices may even outline a diminished fourth in melody (for example the soprano line's descent from E flat to B natural in the opening phrase), a favorite melodic gambit of this composer.
Beyond that, descents through a complete "tetrachord" (G-F-E flat-D) inhabit all four voices, most prominently when singing the text "Si est dolor."
This melodic gesture not only embodies a kind of physical depression, but also signifies "lament" in conventional musical terms to any literate contemporary.
By Simon Cummings:
Victoria has an uncanny gift for producing compositions that strike a perfect, delicate balance, teeming with complexity, abundant in life and interest, while ever keeping the emotions near to the surface.
A sumptuous example of that is his setting of the Holy Week text O vos omnes.
It's found within Victoria's Tenebræ Responses for Holy Saturday; the words are taken from the book of Lamentations (1:12), often associated with Christ on the cross.
Much of the music is rooted in homophony; Victoria huddles the choir together in two pairs, soprano and bass, alto and tenor.
To some extent, he also huddles the notes together — the sopranos explore a fairly narrow range — and there's much meandering of the parts, a perfect representation of the circular nature of grief and yet, at times, he compounds the emotion, suddenly launching the lower voices into their uppermost register (especially at "attendite" and "dolorem meum" — real cries of desperation), as well as peppering his harmonies with piquancy.
Article compiled 24 February 2018