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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Monday, September 7

A 40-voice birthday greeting from Tallis?

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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