Sunday, January 27, 2008

spem in alium

[click "play" and then read on - this is more about the music than the random (although pretty) images. . .]

No - not a plant, although I was looking for alium bulbs as I pondered and daydreamed about my garden this cold winter's day. . . .

A 'google' search of alium reminded me of Tallis' Spem in Alium, a motet for 8 different choirs of 5 parts each - or 40 different voices - simultaneously. . . .

I attempted it 3 or 4 years ago with a band of other like-minded musically-adventurous types in Galway City's St. Nicholas' Cathredal. We got through it - amazingly - although there were some periods of unscheduled silence before some intrepid soul would pick up the lost thread and, like hounds to the scent, the rest of us joined in.

You can download the music here - and what a boon that site is to the ancient music lover! Tons of sheet music and scores in the public domain, available for free as pdf's. Amazing. There appear to be a lot of recordings there as well.

Anyway, here's the song. It's a long one - some 10 minutes. I sure did enjoy trying to sing it. 8 small choirs gathered in a circle, each with our own music director, and then the "professional" director flown in from England to stand in the middle and try and meld us all together. A small audience of maybe 25 or 30 people also sat in the middle surrounded by choirs and were nearly as relieved as we were when we managed the final chord. Thereafter, we drank sweet wine and ate 'biscuits' by candlelight.

We were elated and yet sad at the same time. It was a strange combination of emotion. I think it had to do with the ephemeral nature of the enterprise, knowing that we would in all likelihood never again be a part of something quite that ambitious. It's hard enough to get people for 5 different parts let alone to get a multiple of 8 times 5!

I watched the movie Troy for the first time the other night. Achilles comments that the 'gods' are actually envious of mortals, because our very mortality lends a sweetness to the moment that the immortal can never taste. . . . We savor the moment because it will never come again.

It was an amazing moment.


prophet said...

I realize - now - my happy mistake. It was to think that allium (the deer-proof bulb in the onion family) was spelled with only one "l".

So happy for this particular misspelling, though. I must have listened to Spem in Alium 10 times already since finding and posting this. . . .

WARNING: the music starts to take up residence in otherwise silent thoughts.

Kate Schmidt said...

Thanks for this! I haven't heard 'Spem in Alium' in ages. It's one of my favorite things ever. How nice to hear it in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.

prophet said...

Ha! Another Spem in Alium fan. . . I wasn't totally sure they existed outside the rarefied air of ancient cathedrals or university chapels. Glad to see another real live person who's actually heard of it.