Composers Datebook®

A 40-voice birthday greeting from Tallis?

Composer's Datebook - September 7, 2023


On today’s date in 1573, Queen Elizabeth the First celebrated her 40th birthday.

According to some musicologists, the music-loving monarch received as a birthday gift a Latin motet for 40 voices by Thomas Tallis titled Spem in alium, which translates as “Hope in All Things.” Elisabeth was certainly fond of Tallis, awarding him special gifts and privileges —despite his remaining a steadfast Roman Catholic throughout her reign, when being a Catholic in Protestant England was very risky business, indeed!

In fact, other musicologists contend that this famous motet was ACTUALLY written for the coronation of Elizabeth’s predecessor, the CATHOLIC queen Mary Tudor. Still others say: “No, no—the motet was commissioned by a patriotic British nobleman, who challenged Tallis to write a work as good as—or better—than a contemporary Italian composer’s 40-voice motet.”

The truth is we just don’t know for sure why Tallis composed this intricate and glorious music. We do know that in a dangerous time for ANYONE with strong religious convictions, Tallis lived to the ripe old age of 80. His epitaph reads: “As he did live, so he did die—in mild and quiet sort (O happy Man!)”

Music Played in Today's Program

Thomas Tallis (c.1505 - 1585) Spem in alium Huelgas Ensemble; Paul Van Nevel, cond. Sony 60992

On This Day


  • 1726 - French opera composer and chess master François André Danican-Philidor, in Dreux;

  • 1923 - English composer, pianist and actress Madeleine Dring, in Hornsey, London;

  • 1924 - American film composer Leonard Rosenman, in Brooklyn;


  • 1881 - American poet, flutist and composer Sidney Lanier, age 39, in Lynn, N.C.;


  • 1922 - Bliss: "Colour Symphony," at the Three Choirs' Festival in Glouchester, England;

  • 1940 - David Diamond: "Concerto for Orchestra," in Yaddo, N.Y.;

  • 1949 - Ghedini: opera, "Billy Budd," in Venice (Benjamin Britten's more successful operatic treatment of the same Hermann Melville novella premiered in London on December 1, 1951);

  • 1971 - Bernstein: "Mass" (public dress rehearsal), at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; The work's official gala premiere occurred on Sept. 8, 1971.

  • 1996 - David Stock: String Quartet No. 3, in Pittsburgh, by Cuarteto Latinoamericano.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®