To celebrate their 25th anniversary, I Fagiolini, director Robert Hollingworth, are releasing a new disc of music for 40-part choir. The centre-piece will be Antonio Striggio's 40-part mass Missa Ecco sì beato giorno, which was memorably performed at the Proms in 2007. It is this piece which a diarist, writing some decades later, remembered as inspiring the composition of Tallis's Spem in Alium, when a Duke (probably the Duke of Norfolk) heard the Striggio composition and challenged an English composer to do as good.
In fact, with Spem in Alium Tallis did far better. As anyone who heard the Proms performance of Striggio's Mass, Striggio does not handle his large scale forces as imaginatively as Tallis. But it will be good to get the piece on disc.
I Fagiolini's disc includes not only Striggio's Missa Ecco sì beato giorno, but the motet on which it is based along with a selection of Striggio's other motets. Plus Tallis's Spem in Alium. This latter is given in a new edition by Hugh Keyte, with instrumental accompaniment for the first time. Spem in Alium is of course a problematic work as the only manuscript we have for it, is in fact the contrafactum, with English words, which was produced for Prince Henry of Wales (elder son of James I). And the only reference to the work's first performance is the diarist writing some decades after the original performance.