Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Forty-part harmony

"Spem In Alium" sounds like it ought to be on the menu for school dinner. It is in fact a motet by Thomas Tallis and one of the most profoundly haunting pieces of music you will ever hear. Radio Four's "Soul Music" examined how it is constructed and talked to people who've been affected by it. I liked the idea of the human rights lawyer drawing upon it while defending an apparently hopeless case in Alabama. You can listen to the programme here.


  1. We saw A wonderful performance of Spem in alium at the proms last summer.
    It always cheers me up seeing the plague to Thomas Tallis in the middle of lowly New Cross (2 doors down from Barnes Wallis!)

  2. Can I be the first person to say 'lovely spem, wonderful spem'. I'm a sucker for a spot of choral music like that, and Anne Dudley's Ancient and Modern album has a Tallis track plus lots more in that mode. Beautiful.

  3. Number 5 in Amazon's best selling music bargains of the hour - below Rihanna, but above Kaiser Chiefs.

  4. And you're not joking.

  5. Anonymous11:02 am

    Wow! I've never heard this piece of music before and it's quite amazing.

    Just listened to the programme and feel quite moved. I can only imagine what it's like to experience it live.

    I'm downloading it right now!

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention, David.

  6. Anonymous10:09 pm

    This is the piece if music that is the basis for the work "Forty Part Motet" by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, which I experienced at Liverpool Tate a few years back. This work has 40 speakers around a large room. Each speaker delivers the voice of a single member of the performing choir. You can either stand in the centre and hear the whole choir or wander around and listen to individual voices or groups of voices. This gives a totally different perspective as you are able to hear things which normally only mmembers of the choir are aware of. A fantastic experience.

  7. Anonymous2:12 pm

    I was the Baritone in Choir 8 once. Never had to concentrate so hard in all my life as we only had a day to rehearse. Picking up cues from the tenor in choir 5 or the alto in choir 2, having to count 32 bars before coming in. But what an experience. Especially when we all came in on "Respice". It was written for the Duke of Norfolk and he was so impressed on first performance that he took the gold chain from around his neck and gave it to Thomas Tallis.