20 January 2011 § Leave a comment

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This was the single piece that turned me on to Renaissance choral music. Best heard with headphones.

I copied this from the link:

Spem in alium is a forty-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed circa 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each.

Though composed in imitative style and occasionally homophonic, its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its fairly simple harmonic framework; allowing for an astonishing number of individual musical ideas to be sung during its ten-to-twelve minute performance time.

The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mess, the work is continually presenting new ideas to the listener.

The effect on the listener of the sheer number of ideas contained in the work, compounded with the unusual performance practice of surrounding the audience with performers, is that of inundation, or of being completely overwhelmed.

The work is not often performed, as it requires at least forty singers capable of meeting its technical demands.

The discipline that comes with performing the masterpiece is highlighted in the importance of the conductor and the performers alike. Whilst performers are distributed throughout a venue, the conductor becomes truly the hub for the piece throughout, as often there is little or no visibility between the performers, and a large venue will present acoustical challenges, not regarded with traditional choirs co-located.


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