Let us ease into the week with a treat for the ear and the eye.
I present to you Spem in alium, a triumph of English polyphony, by Thomas Tallis. This motet contains 40 parts—eight choirs of five voices each.
The story of its origin is fascinating. An Italian composer, Allesandro Striggio, was visiting England, and presented a beatific 40-part composition (here’s a taste of Striggio’s work). When an English duke wondered aloud whether an English composer might be capable of such a feat, Tallis took up the challenge.
Interestingly, the duke’s home featured an octagonal hall with four balconies, and it has been suggested that Tallis planned for the motet to be sung in the round, making good use of the architecture of the duke’s home.
The story goes that the duke was so awed when the motet was performed, he took a gold chain from his neck and placed it on Tallis’s neck.
http://www0.cpdl.org/wiki/images/5/55/Tallis_Spem_in_alium_full_score_PML.pdf (score of Spem in alium and notes on its origin).
Image attribution: Octagon via openclipart.org. https://openclipart.org/detail/133465/octagon-connections