Thomas Tallis: Spem in Alium

Does it ever get very ‘dog eat dog’ in the genteel world of composing? Well, sad to say, it sometimes does. It can be very competitive.

Ravel and Debussy were seen to be at odds often; Tchaikovsky writes in his letters about making sure he is the first composer to have a certain instrument; and Tallis? Well, Tallis allowed himself to be almost taunted by visiting Italian composers, who proudly waved their 40-part motets in his face. He simply had to write ‘a song of fortie partes, made by Mr Tallys’, as it would have been known at the time.

Tallis was no spring chicken, either, when he set about finding the choral Holy Grail. Although it’s hard to pin down – Thomas Tallis appears to have been an international man of mystery, with no records of him at all before he was an adult – it would appear he was not far off seventy when he set the words of the Matins response ‘I have never put my hope in any other but you, O God of Israel’. The music he came up with is simply breathtaking and has captivated new generations down the years.

Recommended Recording

The Sixteen; Harry Christophers (conductor). Coro: COR16073.

Illustration: Mark Millington