Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Thursday, September 7

A 40-voice birthday greeting from Tallis?

Synopsis

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

Now, according to some musicologists, the Queen received as a birthday gift THIS music—a Latin motet for 40 voices by Thomas Tallis titled "Spem in alium," which translates as "Hope in All Things." The music-loving monarch was certainly fond of Tallis, and rewarded him with special gifts and privileges—despite the fact that Tallis remained a steadfast Roman Catholic throughout her reign. And remember, in the late 16th century, being a Roman Catholic in Protestant England was hardly the "politically correct" path to career advancement!

In fact, other musicologists contend that this famous 40-voice motet was ACTUALLY written for the coronation of Elizabeth's predecessor, the CATHOLIC queen Mary Tudor. Still other music historians 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 what compelled Tallis to compose 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. He was buried in a parish in Greenwich, and it's said his tombstone's epitaph read:

"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

Additional Information

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