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Thomas Tallis Turns 500

Thomas TallisThomas Tallis’s oeuvre is a music history seminar in itself, tracing 80 years of transition in the English church (and its music) from Catholicism before Henry VIII, through the reformation under Edward VI and the Catholicism of Mary Tudor, to the Protestant settlement under Elizabeth in 1559. Most may know scattered bits of Tallis motets, either the florid Catholic grandeur, or the Anglican close harmony. There is no better time to experience his music in its entirety, however, than this year - the 500th anniversary of his birth.

Though it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of many of his works, his ability to flourish, let alone stay alive, as Britain’s religious establishments turned themselves inside out is astonishing, as was his ability to musically sum up the exact sentiment demanded by the pundits of the day. It is music of aesthetic beauty and function that also provide examples of impeccable settings of, especially, the English language.

It was a treat, then to enjoy an evening of Tallis’s choral music with the Schola Cantorum of Boston, on October 30th (this professional choir can be found on recordings with the Boston Camerata). The 12-voice professional ensemble, celebrating its 20th year, offered an ambitious all-Tallis program in the chapel of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. The Chapel was packed, a testament to the strength of the choral scene in Boston, and the ensemble delivered an impressively broad survey of contrapuntal Latin motets and English partsong. Some of the more demanding pieces could have used one more rehearsal, and the ensemble lacked consistent intonation in the middle voices, but the antiphonal and polyphonal gestures were flawlessly executed under the subtle direction of Fredrick Jodry. This ensemble performs only in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island (where Jodry is based), and can be heard the weekend of February 24th singing Victoria, and again in late April with an all-Josquin program.

Also on Ionarts:

At MoMA (October 18), on a sound installation featuring Tallis's Spem in alium, by Janet Cardiff

Janet Cardiff @ MoMA (October 23), an image of the installation
For D.C. audiences, college choirs might be a good bet for finding programs. A quick survey of professional choirs revealed no Tallis birthday concerts on the horizon, which is a shame, knowing that several first-rate professional choirs are in residence at the big churches in town. There will be an opportunity, however, in the most unlikely of places. The Tallis Scholars (appropriate) will be conducting an American tour. On December 7th, they will be performing at St. John’s Church in Roanoke, Va. The drive might be a small price to pay to catch a definitive performance of Tallis's work.


Anonymous said...

A little bit late to search for Tallis quincentenary celebrations in Washington, no? There was a workshop in July and a performance of Spem in alium by Washington's best professional singers. For those interested in smaller-scale performances, the choir of St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Potomac will perform an all-Tallis Evensong on Sunday afternoon November 6.

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes, in our concert schedule I listed two performances that included Tallis at the National Cathedral this summer but did not make it to either one.