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Spem in Alium. Thomas Tallis.

Updated on July 16, 2011

Spem in Alium

Spem in Alium

I first heard this piece of Tudor music on BBC Radio Four. I was drawing illustrations for my book, Archie-Parchie-Piddley-Poo and was listening to the radio to help concentration. On this particular program a chap (a Vicar, I think) was telling of the first time he heard Spem in Alium and how moving he'd found it, then the program played the piece and I was completely awed.  My second thought was how much I'd like this CD and started dropping hints to my partner that this might be a nice romantic gift.  Sadly that didn't work and I had to buy my own copy from Amazon.

The Oxford Camerata

The CD version I have was performed by The Oxford Camerata and was made to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Tallis' birth. It was recorded at All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London. It really would make a great Christmas or Valentines gift for anyone you love, be it Mum Dad, or partner.

What is Spem in Alium

Spem in Alium (Hope in God) is a piece of music written in Tudor times by Thomas Tallis. It is commonly described as a motet, which the Reader's Digest Dictionary gives as "A polyphonic musical composition based on a text of a sacred nature and usually sung without accompaniment," which describes what it is but not the sheer beauty of the piece. Eight choirs of five voices each sing in the round. A single voice starts at one end and the music moves along the choirs and back and forth, producing a haunting piece. Listening to Spem in Alium is probably the nearest I've been to experiencing Heaven on Earth.

However, if you like this piece of music you might also like Allegri's Miserere

Thomas Tallis 1505-1585

 The dates of Tallis' life are only approximate, as his birth was not recorded anywhere.  He first came to light in 1530 when he was working as an organist at Dover Priory, and so must have been adult by then.  He was described as very aged when he died in 1585.  In 1538 he was senior member of music staff at Waltham Abbey and he later sang with the choir at Cantabury Cathedral.

He became associated with Royal Courts and wrote music for the Tudor King Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.  Spem in Alium was a later piece, possibly prompted by the Duke of Norfolk.


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