Thomas Tallis -the sound of many voices
Take a look at Classic FM’s Hall of Fame, and there among the poll of listeners’ favourite classical pieces you’ll find a surprise. Coming in at number 89, just ahead of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and only just behind Albinoni’s Adagio, is Thomas Tallis’s sacred vocal work Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui – “I have no other hope (than God)”.
Why should an immensely complex piece in a dead language have struck such a chord? Part of the reason is the current vogue for spiritual music, which has sent CDs of chants by Spanish monks and The Priests soaring up the album charts. But there is something extraordinary about this particular piece. It’s like an ocean of sound, where individual voices are glimpsed for a few seconds before they vanish back into the mass.
. . .It’s thought the piece may have been premiered in 1570 in the octagonal banqueting hall of the Duke’s country residence of Nonsuch Palace, with the choirs dispersed on the galleries above the audience. This would give the music an added spatial dimension, sometimes appearing to ricochet back and forth, sometimes rotating around the listeners’ heads. . .