The BBC television and radio broadcasters aired a radio play a number of years ago set in the time of the civil wars. All I can remember about its contents is a man swimming for his life in the River Thames in London. Spem in Alium played in the background, a hauntingly beautiful and most angelic piece of choral work. Its composer is Thomas Tallis, who died in 1585. Though he predates the civil wars by some hundred years, much of his music survives. Of these, he is most widely for this piece.

Though I am not a christian in any religious sense, this piece is definitely moving in its increasing complexity.

King Henry VIII appointed him to the post of a "Gentleman of the Royal Chapel" in 1542, to which he stayed until his death. He wrote music for the monarchs Edward VI, Queen Mary of Scotland and also Queen Elizabeth I. Though Elizabeth was a protestant, she was fluent in a number of languages, and she often commisioned such works. It is suggested that Tallis, a catholic, wrote Spem in Alium to her for her fourtieth birthday to make a point of the virtue of humility because of her suppression of Catholicism.

I hope you make the point to look this piece out and enjoy it as I have done.

Spem in Alium - lyrics and translation

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