Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis


Octagon with lines connecting all vertices with one another

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.

Here you can find the score and more about Spem in alium.

And now, Spem in alium, performed by the Taverner Choir.  The piece has been visualized by Stephen Malinowski.

References (score of Spem in alium and notes on its origin).


Image attribution: Octagon via

2 thoughts on “Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis

  1. Some Joy for Monday. Thank you. The visualization is tremendous.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Chris! Always a great joy to hear the Tallis- I imagine the effect in a large (preferably octagonal) space would be extraordinary. And the Striggio is a great piece too. If I could figure out a way to make useable parts, we could attempt it in the new space.


    Liked by 1 person

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