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A moment of blissful peace in a wearisome world...

Written by Thomas Tallis. Spem in Alium, has become well known recently, not least due to it's 'unfortunate' association with a mildly notorious book “15 hues of Taupe” or, I believe, something like that.

Originally written to be performed as 8 choirs of 5 voices. It is scored as a 40 part harmony. The work was written circa 1570. Anecdotally, inspired by an Italian work. A letter written in 1611  by Thomas Wateridge, a law student:

In Queen Elizabeth's time yeere was a songe sen[t] into England of 30 parts (whence the Italians obteyned ye name to be called ye Apices of the world) wch beeinge songe mad[e] a heavenly Harmony. The Duke of — bearinge a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe, and Tallice beinge very skilfull was felt to try whether he would undertake ye matter, wch he did and made one of 40 partes wch was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house, wch so farre surpassed ye other that the Duke, hearinge yt songe, tooke his chayne of Gold from his necke & putt yt about Tallice his necke and gave yt him.
[Cole, Suzanne (2008). Thomas Tallis and his music in Victorian England. Boydell. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-84383-380-2. ]

There is some vagueness  in respect of the date, with some historians proposing that it was written in the reign of Queen Mary rather than Elizabeth I. The piece is not often performed as it requires at least 40 performers of significant skill.  The Work is often performed with the conductor at the hub with the choristers distributed around the auditorium. Two notable exceptions to this are, the A'cappella group “The Kings Singers” comprising just six members, using multi-tracking to produce the 40 voices. And in July 2006, a performance of the piece for the BBC, featured more than seven hundred voices, the largest group to perform the work. Although  individually each part is relatively simple, the weave and weft of the piece produces a complex and beautiful work full of vivid imagery that allows the listener to revel in the majesty of the human voice.

Born in 1505, at the end of the reign of Henry VII. Thomas Tallis survived the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, “Bloody” Queen Mary, and Elizabeth I. Thomas Tallis was an unreformed Catholic, who spurned the politics of the time. An adaptable and flexible composer, he wrote, and was popular in each of the monarchic eras. Unfortunately, much of his early work has been lost. He was granted a 21 year patent by Queen Elizabeth to publish his later works in several languages, a catalogue of compositions that has inspired artists into the modern era. It is notable that Catholic Queen Mary provided an estate and income for him, and Queen Elizabeth I did likewise. On the 23rd. of November 1585 Thomas Tallis died peacefully at home aged approximately 80 years old.

As a side note, the soubriquet Bloody Mary was given in protest at the burning at the stake, or other form of execution, of 283 Protestants during Queen Mary's reign.

Originally posted to Tailgunner30uk on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 04:05 PM PST.

Also republished by An Ear for Music.

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