Many years ago when I was first exploring the world of classical music I had started listening to various choral works by Mozart, Mahler, Verdi and of course the greatest choral work of all, Beethoven’s 9th symphony.
One of my friends at the time said that in his opinion Thomas Tallis’s “Spem in Alium” (40 part motet) was possibly the greatest piece of choral writing in classical music.
My response at the time was along the lines of whom or what is “Spem in Alium and who the hell is Thomas Tallis? I promised my friend that I would seek out the said work and give it a listen.
It is so long ago that I cannot now remember which version of it I listened to but I think the choir was conducted by David Willcocks. I put the record on and sat back not knowing what to expect.
Just under 10 minutes later I was of the opinion that I had possibly just heard the greatest piece of music ever composed. It was so unlike anything I had ever heard and even now there is very little (if anything) that can match the sound of unaccompanied voices rising and falling as they weave a pattern of transcendental beauty.
I also now think I know where Ligeti got his inspiration from to compose Lux Aeterna which came to prominence when Kubrick featured it in his epic film 2001, A Space Odyssey (much to Ligeti’s annoyance).
I have never been lucky enough to hear Spem in Alium done live but it is on my “bucket list”