A specially-priced selection of previously-issued recordings. This recording of Tallis's Spem in alium was featured in "Soul Music" on BBC Radio 4. The supposed birth of Thomas Tallis in 1505 - the date is largely conjectural - gives us the last opportunity to celebrate him for many years. By 2035 - the 450th anniversary of his death in 1585 - one guesses the scene may be rather different. So I feel encouraged to feature our eponymous composer's work in the concerts we shall give during the 2004/5 season, and to release an anthology of the music we have recorded. It is perhaps worth recalling that The Tallis Scholars launched their career in London with four all-Tallis concerts in 1977/8; and made their English Anthems recording, much of which is included here, in 1985, alongside anniversary concerts in the Wigmore Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Utrecht Early Music Festival. My view of Tallis's genius has only deepened with time. Not only was he the arch-survivor but also, unlike those who trim and so build their monuments on shifting sands, he had the ability to create masterpieces in whatever style was the currency of the day. This should not be underestimated, because those styles changed out of recognition during his eighty-or-so years. First it was the traditional Catholic style of Henry VIII's reign; then it was the most severely chordal Protestant style of Edward VI's reign; then it was back to Latin and Catholic writing again under Mary, though this time in a more mature idiom than in Henry's reign - Tallis was by now turning fifty; then it was the compromise style for Elizabeth whom he served for twenty-six years and who left him sufficiently alone for him to produce some of his greatest music. It was not considered desirable on these two discs to present Tallis's music according to any chronological sequence, but the four styles outlined above can be followed clearly enough. Disc 1 starts with the exception to every rule - indeed so outstanding is Spem in alium that it still seems impossible that one mind without a computer could have managed it. To write for forty voices which do not repeat themselves in consecutive motion and not to lose control of the whole colossal edifice, is to set a challenge which even the Art of Fugue scarcely rivals. The actual compositional style of it is slightly blurred between those characteristics implied by stages three and four above - sometimes imitative between (some of) the parts, sometimes setting the text syllabically, never dealing in the unrestrained melismas of much of his purest Catholic music - and so it is not fully established whether Tallis wrote it for Mary or Elizabeth (both of whom celebrated their fortieth birthdays whilst on the throne) or for some more abstract reason, perhaps to do with the Biblical number 40. But for us in our modern terms, as for Tallis himself, Spem remains the ultimate technical challenge - supremely difficult to bring off, supremely rewarding when one comes near. Sancte Deus is a classic example of Tallis's first style, illustrating what I mean above by unrestrained melismas'. A melisma is a melodic line which only uses one syllable, like the A' of Amen, allowing the composer's imagination to fly free of text-setting. This essentially abstract way of thinking was admired by the pre-Reformation Catholics, and needless to say was particularly objected to by the Protestants. The Salvator mundi settings (the second much less famous than the first) were Elizabethan and so more compact; but Gaude gloriosa is one of the most elaborate Catholic compositions of the entire period. Unlike Spem it is colossal in length rather than height, using the nine exclamations of Gaude' in the text to work up a construction which is essentially architectural.
Motets / The Tallis Scholars, dir. Peter Phillips (2 CD pour le prix d'un)