Thomas Tallis, Scholars, St Paul’s and Tintinnabuli

It’s winter again here in London!

Forecast of top temps of 1C and feeling like -8 with a wind from Siberia.. and then it’s been snowing too! They say it may not get warm again until end of the month..! So much for Spring is coming.. the flowers will all go back into hiding. Really really cold now despite the sun shining and yet, because we have had little rain recently our small seedling pots are drying out… feels like Beijing! A cold desert.

That all said, I was going to comment on my visit to hear the Tallis Scholars sing at their 40th Anniversary concert. Sublime!

The Tallis Scholars are one of my absolute favourites. They sing early music by default – hence the name as they were originally set up to sing work by Thomas Tallis, and his contemporaries – but now they also sing modern music which plays to their strengths of, if required, some 40 unaccompanied voices.

Their first ever concert was in 1973 at the Church of St Mary Magdalen in Oxford. Then they only sang sacred works as they put it and they were undergrads at the time. Their style of music, for those who don’t know them, is called polyphony. And much of their singing is in Latin, as this is the language of the composers for these works. Renaissance music of this type was largely sacred words set to music and thus we hear Missa and Misereres as the norm and core backbone for their concerts and recordings.

This 40th anniversary concert was held in St Paul’s Cathedral and of course this is a wonderful location to hear such work as this is the type of setting for which they were composed.

St Paul's

St Paul’s

St Paul’s is magnificent in its gilding and mosaic and of course the great Dome which was decorated in the early 18th century has scenes of St Paul’s life all around some 50 metres up from the ground…! This was all refurbished in the 20th century which is why it is so bright and glorious to look at today. The Dome of course is an interesting architectural topic in itself.  The cathedral was designed by Wren – and not to the Kings’ specification it must be said – and he decided he wanted a great dome on top.  Apparently the Dome was not preconceived and built according to strict specifications, but rather was a work of some trial and error as Wren changed ideas about how to support the weight even as it was being built. You can read more, if architecture interests you about how he did this on:

The fabulous decoration of the Dome

The fabulous decoration of the Dome

It is the Cathedral of the Diocese of London and the Diocese is made up of five episcopal areas: Willesde, Edmonton, Stepney, London and Kensington.

It is at least the fourth to have stood on the site. It was built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and services began in 1697.

This was the first cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and the Crown took control of the life of the church. So it  is not a Roman Catholic cathedral but an Anglican cathedral.

(Note, I am listening even as I write to one of the 4(!!) Cds I bought after the concert)

The concert had 2 World Premieres of modern music and one London Premiere  of modern music, so we were treated to the most astonishingly varied set of songs.

In total there were 4 pieces of modern music. The first was amazingly angelic and ethereal to listen to. It was by an Estonian composer called Arvo Part. Part says that his work is derived from a ‘mongrel’ mix of Gregorian chant, renaissance polyphony and Russian Orthodox music. He calls it ‘tintinnabuli’. a word I’ve never heard of. Indeed if you go to Wikipedia, the word is his creation it seems:

One of the world premiere’s was that of Gabriel Jackson, who apparently expresses his affinity for the ‘ecstatic panconsonant music of the early Tudor period’.  The other was that of Eric Whitacre who was asked to write this piece especially for this 40th anniversary of the Tallis Scholars. The final piece of modern music was a London premiere of Robin Walker’s piece for 40 voices originally commissioned for The Bridgewater Hall, in Manchester, the concert hall there.  This piece of music was arranged into 8 choirs of 5 voices and is described as a sacred madrigal.

At times the Scholars placed a singer in the choir of the cathedral some feet away from the main choir to provide an echo or ‘discussion’; and for a couple of the songs there was also a choir placed up high in the galleries to provide an echo from the roof as it were…

Peter Phillips has directed this choir since its formation which is a remarkable achievement and he has appeared in some 1800 concerts with them and made nearly 60 recordings. This is a choir with an enormous output and yet a singular type of music.

If you haven’t heard them yet, then do look for a sample on YouTube or you can download from their home site be transformed….

The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars


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