thomas tallys

Music Monday: Spem In Alium 1570

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Thomas Tallis Image One
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Portrait by Gerard van der Gucht
Engraving by Niccolò Haym
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org

Now, we are in the 1570s…

Spem in Alium is Latin for “hope in any other” or “hope in another”. A 40-part Renaissance Motet, it was composed in 1570 (thereabouts) by Thomas Tallis (Tallys). Written for eight choirs of five voices each, meaning there are 40 separate voices singing individual lines of music, it is considered to be Tallis’s greatest achievement and, possibly, one of the finest compositions of all time.

Information on where it was first performed is scarce. There appears to be some confusion regarding where it took place, as two locations…Nonsuch Palace, a royal Tudor palace in Surrey built by Henry VIII (not to be confused with Nonsuch Mansion) and Arundel House, a London townhouse originally for the Bishops of Bath & Wells…were both owned by Henry Fitzalan, the 12th/19th Earl of Arundel at one time. Most of what I have read leans towards Arundel House but, truly, I don’t think anyone really knows. It’s all a big guess. And, it is pure speculation as to why he wrote it. Some suggestions include a challenge due to an Italian composer doing same, Elizabeth’s 40th birthday or, perhaps for Mary as he was Catholic. Again, no one really knows.

The music, below, is soul stirring. ~Vic

Arundel House Image Three
Artist: Wenceslaus Hollar
Arundel House
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org

The text of the motet:

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

Nonsuch Palace Image Two
Artist: Georg Hoefnagel 1568
Watercolour of the south frontage of Nonsuch Palace
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org

 

English Translation:

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

Additional Reading & Sources:
The Belle Jar (Blog Post)
Oxford Music Online
Spem in Alium History (PDF on Super Flumina Website)
How To Buy Spem In Alium (Classic FM Website)
Tallis and His Song of Forty Parts (Zenodo Website)