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Playlist for 17th October – The Tallis Scholars

October 16, 2010

The Tallis Scholars have just issued a 3 boxed sets of Renaissance choral music that contains some of their best recordings. Each boxed sets is organised into recordings from a particular decade, the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s respectively. At $35 for each box its a brilliant bargain…..and the quality of the singing is astounding. So for this weeks show I’m going to play some music by this choir, but instead of playing lots of pieces from the sets I’m going to play just 2 pieces. Firstly, something from the composer whose name they use, Thomas Tallis and his astounding 40-part motet Spem in Alium followed by a piece that has completely bewitched me by a composer I’d never heard before. The work is the Missa Et ecce terrae motus by Antoine Brumel (c.1460-c.1520). This translates as the Earthquake Mass, which in light of recent events is a good choice.

Spem in Alium

In 1567, the Italian musician and nobleman Alessandro Striggio stunned the London musical scene with a performance of his motet Ecce beatam lucem, written for an extravagant ensemble of 40 voice parts. According to legend two of England’s leading Catholic noblemen issued a commission to Tallis to match Striggio’s accomplishment and Tallis presented England with Spem in alium composed for 40 voices in eight choirs of five voices each.

Earthquake Mass

Antoine Brumel was a composer in the Franco-Flemish tradition during the time of Josquin and Obrecht. He was a pupil of Josquin, and historically significant as the first truly French composer to be associated with the court in Burgundy

The Earthquake Mass is so called because of its cantus firmus (which is a fixed melody underpinning a polyphonic composition. The cantus firmus of this mass is an Antiphon for Easter morning Lauds whose text describes the moment of Christ’s Resurrection with the words: “And behold, there was a great earthquake, and the angel of the Lord descended from heaven”
From this Brunel wrote a large scale mass for 12 voices, rather than the more standard 4 or 5. What is amazing to me is how in places how modern this piece sounds and it’s hard to believe its getting on for 500 years old.


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