Spem in Alium (eight brass quintets)

Thomas Tallis
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Full details

One of the most popular and impressive works of the 16th Century, Thomas Talli’s 40-part motet ’Spem in Alium’ was written in response to a similarly ambitious motet, ’Ecce Beatem Lucem’ by Italian Allessandro Striggio. The piece is remarkable certainly for its scope, comprising as it does of eight choirs of five voices (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass) with huge potential for spatial arrangement.

In the preface to his own edition of this work, which was my source for this edition, Philip Legge posits that ’Spem in Alium’ might have been intended for the octagonal banquet hall of the Earl of Arundel at Nonsuch Palace. The hall’s construction was based on the cardinal points, and moreover there were four first-floor balconies which would have permitted choirs to stand separated not only horizontally, but also vertically. Tallis’ attitude to ’cori spezzati’ (an antiphonal multiple-choir technique brought to its zenith in Giovanni Gabrieli’s Venice) is flexible and imaginative, as he pairs the choirs in many different groupings. Music would, therefore, move across the centre of the space in a variety of directions, and arrive with the audience in the manner of stereophony.

For this present edition, I have transcribed the music directly for eight brass quintets. The horn parts, based as they are on the range of the tenor, are quite low in the register, and this has necessitated changes of clef in the score which are more frequent than I would like. However, this avoids the inevitable collisions between parts spaced so closely together in this dense texture. I have deleted these clef changes from the parts, which are entirely in treble clef. In addition, where possible, I have hidden the rests of quintets which are not involved on a particular page. If this does not suit your director, please contact me and I will change it.

Trumpet parts are in B-flat (October 2014 update).

I have not included tempo markings (save an initial advisory mark, which may be brisker than you are used to - this is mostly as a result of the brass players not being required to articulate words in a busy, polyphonic texture) nor are there dynamic markings. Apart from the unsightly crowding of the score these would produce, I did not want to impose my own views of the dynamic possibilities on the performers. In general, I believe that Tallis uses the enormity of the sound, rather than dynamics for individual choirs, to produce dynamic contrast.

Tallis’ attitude to dissonance permits for semitonal clashes, and there are a number of examples in this piece. Also, as each melodic fragment is passed around the groups, performance practice in the recordings with which I am familiar allows for the bringing out of this line.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Score ID
Thomas Tallis
Year of arrangement
Difficult (Grades 7+)
9 minutes
Brass quintet
Classical music

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