Thomas Tallis, born in 1505, was one of the outstanding liturgical composers of his day, being the acknowledged master of the composers of England from the time of Queen Mary's reign forward. He was a composer and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, and worked closely with many other composers, most particularly William Byrd. He was an organist in addition to composer. He died in 1585, having navigated his way through the tumultuous catholic/protestant difficulties of the church which provided his livelihood and creative outlet.
--Spem in alium--
This piece, Spem in alium numquam habui (I have no faith in any other [than God]), is Tallis' most famous piece. It is a 40-part motet, set up for eight five-part choirs. It is a masterpiece. Tallis blended the chordal with the polyphonic here, to great effect. The number of voices makes for interesting effects, particularly when done in cathedral settings. Several stories have appeared about why this work was composed, but in the end, it remains unknown.
Other pieces included on this disc include Tallis' Sancte Deus, one of his early works, done during the reign of Henry VIII, and two settings of Salvator mundi, salva nos. These are rather smaller pieces, particularly in comparison with Spem in alium. Gaude gloriosa is more in keeping with Spem in alium, in terms of length and phrasing. The Miserere is a seven-part technical masterpiece very close in form to traditional English canonical settings. The final piece, Loquebantur variis linguis, is a seven-voice chant.
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian (together with any Latin texts); that is true of this disc. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here it is a piece from the Munich collection of Alte Pinakothek by Albrecht Durer in 1500, roughly contemporary with Tallis.
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces by Thomas Tallis, the namesake of the group, deserves a place on the shelf of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. It is remarkable, both in composition and performance. The original recording was made in 1985.