Monday, April 11, 2011

A Polyphonic Spree

The story goes that the London musical crowd of 1567 was in a spin over Ecce beatam lucem, a choral work for 40 individual voices by Allessandro Striggio. At the time there was competition between English and Continental music publishers. The Duke of Norfolk issued a challenge to English musicians to better the Italian effort and the result was Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis.

Another version says that Tallis wrote the 40 part motet for the 40th birthday of Queen Elizabeth I in 1573. The choice of text, from the Book of Judith, may have been to flatter the Queen, comparing her to the heroic Judith.

But even that may not be the truth. The strictly Catholic Tallis may have written Spem to honour the Catholic Queen Mary, in defiance of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth.

Whatever the truth,
Spem is Alium is one of the treasures of Elizabethan English music. It is scored for 40 individual voices, divided into eight choirs of five voices each. The opening theme weaves its way through the eight choirs one by one, until all 40 voices come together in a climax at the 40th bar.

[Good Music Guide]

It is blow-your-socks-off good.

[davy h]

The Choir Of King's College, Cambridge (conductor: David Willcocks) - Tallis: 'Spem In Alium' (1965)


  1. I once saw (and I once blogged about, a very very long time ago, back in 2004 in blog number one of mine) a piece of installation art, which was a circle of very high spec digital speakers in a room, pointing inwards, and each speaker was broadcasting the recording of once voice, with the whole together performing this. It was completely, blissfully lovely. There were seats inside the circle of speakers, and some people just found somewhere to stand. I spent ages there, and every time I looked up and looked around there was a completely different sight as everyone else had moved around.

  2. I wasn't expecting to like this Davy and to have to leave some comment showing me up for the philistine I am but fuck me, that was amazing. It didn't just blow my socks of but my biker boots into the bargain

    I think I still may have shown myself to be a philistine, oh well.

  3. I was introduced to this last year by a work colleague, and my socks were blown off. He's the one who is based in Germany and when I go over there we inevitably end up at his flat listening to music and drinking whiskey - often in the dark! He has introduced me to a fair amount of classical music over the years.
    (In this case the whiskey could have aided in the sock explosion!).

  4. I'll give you all philistine.

    I read the name of the piece as "Sperm in alium".

    Word verification is 'smisma' which may or may not be the feminine of smegma.

  5. 47 people have so far downloaded this monster. I think that's kinda cool.

  6. Well.

    And the Lord did grin.

    As a proper Palestine, I expected Vikings chanting about Spam.

    I must say, it's all going on int it? It's a right old din and no mistake. Even with my 1 working 1982 Technics speaker. (T'other sp kr ke ps com ng an goin).

    You keep allcomers happy at Davy St Clair's Disco.

    Word veri: dernin. As proclaimed by Archbishop Tristran as he tried to sleep off a raging post mead hangover.

  7. Was he from Hull? "I'm dernin - and me owziz on fyer - darl narn narn narn" etc.

  8. That's im. Tristram of 'Ull. (Patron Saint of Fish and Prostitutes).
    Err nerr, it's siling down.
    There's lerds and lerds o singers on that record.

  9. Two hits on your download counter are me. I thought I had somehow screwed up the link at first. Some of the other philistines likely had the same difficulty.

    A bit highbrow,
    it seems to me,
    this venerable
    and ancient ditty.

    Reminds me of being in church where they ration the wine. Socks and also house slippers intact.

    When does Davy get back?

  10. 'Tis said that not until this Friday eve
    For with affairs of commerce is he lately burden'd

  11. 168 plays/downloads in the end.

    Tis physick for the soule, and these oure dayes
    Of blogging are well spente.