Spem in alium
|Spem in alium|
|by Thomas Tallis|
Composer Thomas Tallis
|English||"I have never put my hope in any other but in Thee, God of Israel"|
|Genre||Renaissance Choral music|
|Text||Matins responsory from the Sarum Rite|
|Scoring||40 voices a cappella|
Spem in alium (Latin for "Hope in any other") is a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed in c. 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each. It is considered by some critics to be the greatest piece of English early music. H. B. Collins described it in 1929 as Tallis's "crowning achievement", along with his Lamentations.
The early history of the work is obscure, although there are some clues as to where it may have been first performed. It is listed in a catalogue of the library at Nonsuch Palace, a royal palace that was sold in the 1550s to the Earl of Arundel, before returning to the crown in the 1590s. The listing, dating from 1596, describes it as "a song of fortie partes, made by Mr. Tallys". The earliest surviving manuscripts are those prepared in 1610 for the investiture as Prince of Wales of Henry Frederick, the son of James I.
A 1611 letter written by the law student Thomas Wateridge contains the following anecdote:
In Queen Elizabeth's time yere was a songe sen[t] into England in 30 parts (whence ye Italians obteyned ye name to be called ye Apices of ye 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 being 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 (wch songe was againe songe at ye Princes coronation.
Supposing the "30" to be a mistake, the Italian song referred to has been argued to be either the 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem or the 40–60-voice mass Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno, both by Alessandro Striggio, who is known to have visited London in June 1567 after a trip through Europe during which he arranged other performances of Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno. This account is consistent with the catalogue entry at Nonsuch Palace: Arundel House was the London home of Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel; Nonsuch Palace was his country residence. Nonsuch possessed an octagonal banqueting hall, which in turn had four first-floor balconies: on this supposition it could have been the case that Tallis designed the music to be sung not only in the round, but with four of the eight five-part choirs singing from the balconies.
Likewise the only dukedom extant during the reign of Elizabeth I was that of Norfolk, so the Duke of the letter can only be Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and so (if the anecdote is trustworthy) the Duke's execution in 1572 gives a latest date for the composition of the work. Some scholars consider that the Duke of Norfolk commissioned Tallis to write "Spem in alium" for performance at Nonsuch, and that its first performance took place there. Other historians, doubting the anecdote, have suggested that the first performance was on the occasion of Elizabeth's fortieth birthday in 1573.
The above are the most widely held views, but both contain difficulties. The text comes from a response in the Matins order in the Sarum rite, which had been superseded by the Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, the text used for a performance of the work in 1610 while set to the music is entirely different, suggesting that the original text was not satisfactory. Wateridge's letter is some forty years after the earlier Elizabethan date and does not mention either Striggio or the Duke by name. It has been suggested that if the Duke in question was a Duke of Norfolk this could be the Third Duke who was alive during Mary's reign. If indeed its first performance was in Nonsuch Palace, this belonged to the Norfolk's in the 1550s having been sold to them by Mary. As for the original text, its context, that of Judith slaying Holofernes and regaining her position, fits with Mary's execution of the Duke of Northumberland who had attempted to supplant her on the throne with Lady Jane Grey, rather than Tallis using it for Elizabeth. The music itself is entirely different from Striggio's setting. His work was for ten four part choirs; Tallis's for eight five part choirs. The '30'in Wateridge's letter may not be a misprint or an error; the work referred to may be simply unknown. On these arguments Tallis wrote the work for Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's predecessor. The possibility has been advanced that it was Striggio who copied Tallis, though of this there is no evidence. 
An early score of the work currently resides at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where it was part of an exhibition shown in 2008–09 detailing 1000 years of British choral music. Another early score of the work resides at the British Library, London in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery where it was part of an exhibition shown in 2014–15 titled, "Treasures of the British Library".
The motet is laid out for eight choirs of five voices (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass). It is most likely that Tallis intended his singers to stand in a horseshoe shape. Beginning with a single voice from the first choir, other voices join in imitation, each in turn falling silent as the music moves around the eight choirs. All forty voices enter simultaneously for a few bars, and then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one. There is another brief full section, after which the choirs sing in antiphonal pairs, throwing the sound across the space between them. Finally all voices join for the culmination of the work. Though composed in imitative style and occasionally homophonic, its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its elegant harmonic framework, allowing for a large number of individual musical ideas to be implemented during its ten- to twelve-minute performance time. The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mass, the work is continually changing and presenting new ideas.
The original Latin text of the motet is from a response (at Matins, for the 3rd Lesson, during the V week of September), in the Sarum Rite, adapted from the Book of Judith (Judith 9). Today the response appears in the Divine Office of the Latin rite in the Office of Readings (formerly called Matins) following the first lesson on Tuesday of the 29th Week of the Year.
There is no early manuscript source giving the underlay for the Latin text: the 1610 copies give the underlay for the English contrafactum, sung at the 1610 investiture of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, "Sing and glorify" (see below), with the Latin words given at the bottom.
- Spem in alium nunquam habui
- Praeter in te, Deus Israel
- Qui irasceris et propitius eris
- et omnia peccata hominum
- in tribulatione dimittis
- Domine Deus
- Creator caeli et terrae
- respice humilitatem nostram
- I have never put my hope in any other
- but in Thee, God of Israel
- who canst show both wrath and graciousness,
- and who absolves all the sins
- of man in suffering
- Lord God,
- Creator of Heaven and Earth
- Regard our humility
English contrafactum (1610)
- Sing and glorify heaven's high Majesty,
- Author of this blessed harmony;
- Sound divine praises
- With melodious graces;
- This is the day, holy day, happy day,
- For ever give it greeting, Love and joy
- heart and voice meeting:
- Live Henry princely and mighty,
- Harry live in thy creation happy.
Recordings include those by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral; the Tallis Scholars, The Cardinall's Musick, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, the Oxford Camerata; the Choirs of King's and St John's Colleges, Cambridge; The Sixteen; The Clerkes of Oxenford; Huelgas Ensemble; Taverner Consort and Players; Philip Cave's Magnificat; and, the British male a cappella group, the King's Singers. This recording is particularly noteworthy, since the group is composed of just six men: all forty parts are performed by these six via multitracking. The Kronos Quartet has also recorded an instrumental version of the motet on their album Black Angels. Cellist Peter Gregson has also multitracked Spem in Alium, performing all 40 parts on one cello. I Fagiolini have recorded it alongside a 40 part motet by Alessandro Striggio, with continuo, cornetts and sackbuts.
Another version of this motet is featured in Janet Cardiff's Forty-Part Motet (2001), a sound installation which is part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and of Inhotim in Brumadinho, Brazil. The Ottawa exhibit is set in the Rideau Street Chapel, which is the salvaged interior of a demolished convent chapel that is now in permanent display at the National Gallery. Forty speakers are set around the Chapel, each one featuring a single voice of the 40-part choir. The result is a highly enhanced polyphonic effect, as visitors may hear each individual voice through its corresponding speaker, or listen to the voices of the entire choir blending in together with varying intensities, as one moves around the Chapel.
On 10 June 2006, the BBC asked for 1,000 singers to meet, rehearse and perform the piece in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester for what was almost certainly the largest performance of the piece in history. On that day, over 700 singers attended, most of whom had never sung the piece before. A programme following the day's events was broadcast on BBC Four on December 9, 2006.
Spem in alium features prominently in the Poliakoff drama Gideon's Daughter. It also accompanies the film Touching the Void, and reaches a climax when Yates and Simpson reach the summit of the mountain.
Tallis's Spem in alium has also inspired several modern composers to write 40-part choral works, for example Giles Swayne's The Silent Land (1998), Robert Hanson's And There Shall Be No Night There (2002), Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Tentatio (2006) and Peter McGarr's Love You Big as the Sky (2007). A London-based choral festival, the Tallis Festival, inspired by Spem in alium, commissioned both Mäntyjärvi and McGarr to compose in this genre.
- Tallis—Latin Church Music—Taverner Consort and Players, Andrew Parrott (EMI Reflexe, 1989)
- Thomas Tallis—Spem in alium—The Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 1985)
- Davitt Moroney, "Alessandro Striggio's Mass in Forty and Sixty Parts". Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 1–69. ISSN 0003-0139.
- H. B. Collins, "Thomas Tallis", Music & Letters 10, no. 2 (April 1929): 152–66, citation on 162; Suzanne Cole, Thomas Tallis and His Music in Victorian England,[page needed]
- Cole, Suzanne (2008). Thomas Tallis and His Music in Victorian England. Boydell. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-84383-380-2.
- Dennis Stevens Early Music Vol 10 Issue 2 p.171ff
- Moroney, pp. 28–33.
- Baker, Michael; Steel, George. "The Story of Spem in alium" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
- Thomas Kahlcke, in sleevenotes to "The Tallis Scholars: Best of the Renaissance" (Philips 1999)
- George Steel (March 2002). "The Story of Spem in alium". Andante. Archived from the original on April 26, 2009.
- "Bodleian Libraries Website". Retrieved 17 February 2014.
- Long, Siobhán Dowling; Sawyer, John F. A. (2015). "Spem in Alium". The Bible in Music: A Dictionary of Songs, Works, and More. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 226. ISBN 9780810884526. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
- "The People's Chorus". BBC.
- "Tallis Festival | Exmoor Singers of London". www.exmoorsingers.org. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Complete performance by the Tallis Scholars, followed by 10-minute discussion on BBC Radio 3 (28 October 2007) [RTP stream metadata; requires compatible player]
- Choral Public Domain Library (with further discussion of the work, as well as complete score and singers' editions for each of the eight choirs, available for free legal download).
- Notes by Peter Phillips for the Tallis Scholars recording
- Notes by Jeremy Summerly for the Oxford Camerata recording
- The Early Music Show
- Brighton Consort's MIDI Set offers midi files of each choir and each part within each choir for practice.
- Straight into the charts... a hit from 1568.