Thursday 21 June 2018

Supersize polyphony - 40 part Tallis and 60-part Striggio

Nonsuch Palace
Nonsuch Palace, possible venue for the premiere of Tallis's Spem in alium
The Armonico Consort's Supersize Polyphony tour opens tomorrow (22 June 2018) at the Thaxted Festival, and continues until the 17 July 2018. The choir will be performing two of the largest polyphonic works in the repertoire, Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium and Alessandro Striggio’s 60-part Missa Ecco Si Beato Giorno in complete ‘surround sound’ – with the audience encircled by the choir. Directed by Christopher Monks, the Armonico Consort will be joined by the Choir of Gonville and Caius College Chapel, Cambridge and, for the Striggio, they will also be collaborating with local chamber and youth choirs.

Thomas Tallis's motet Spem in alium was written arount 1570 though the earliest surviving manuscripts date from 1610, when the motet was re-used (with English words) for the investiture of Henry, Prince of Wales. According to an anecdote written in a letter at the time (in 1611), the motet was the result of the challenge from the Duke of Norfolk as a result of Alessandro Striggio's visit to England in 1567, when he brought either his 40 part motet Ecce beatam lucem or the 60-part mass. And Tallis's motet, written in challenge and emulation, may well have been conceived to be performed in the octagon of Nonsuch Palace; the work uses eight five-part choirs and Tallis moves the music around the choirs in a very spatial manner.

After their appearance at the Thaxted Festival, the Armonico Consort's  eight-date UK tour includes a flagship concert in the spectacular Coventry Cathedral (Friday 6 July), an open-air performance at Petworth House Stable Yard to open the 40th Petworth Festival (17 July) and visits to Poole, Crawley, Malvern, Basingstoke, and Cambridge.

There is also a series of associated events for children and local communities. Armonico Consort’s singing education programme, AC Academy, will give schools workshops in partnership with local music education hubs, introducing children to the Striggio Mass through three short new pieces written by composer-in-residence, Toby Young. They will be taught in schools and then sung together with the professional singers in immersive, in-the-round concert workshops.

There are also come-and-sing open rehearsals at several venues where the public can learn Tallis’ Spem in Alium singing alongside the professional singers during open rehearsals. Pop-up performances are also planned and a recording to be made in Cambridge will be released on the Signum label.

Full details from the Armonico Consort website.

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