Tuesday 11 December 2007

SPEM IN ALIUM: Hope in any other have I never had, save in Thee, O God of Israel!

Thomas Tallis, English Catholic composer

SPEM IN ALIUM numquam habui praeter in te Deus Israel qui irasceris et propitius eris et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis.

Domine Deus Creator coeli et terra respice humilitatem nostram.

HOPE IN ANY OTHER have I never had, save in Thee, O God of Israel, Thee who will be angry and yet become again gracious and who forgiveth all the sins of suffering man.

Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, look upon our lowliness.

Adapted from the Book of Judith for the Sarum rite

Tallis took these marvellous words for his motet from the Sarum rite, the old use of the Roman rite that was the most common among the English, taking its name from Old Sarum, the old Latin name for Salisbury in Wiltshire.

The words are adapted from the prayer of Judith, in the Book of Judith, when she prayed to the God of Israel.

This was Judith who saved her people from destruction by insinuating her way into the enemy camp and to the tent of their leader, Holofernes, who, taken by her beauty, let her in where she encouraged him to drink too much. When he had fallen asleep, Judith cut off his head and took it in a bag out of the camp and back to the camp of Israel and shewed it to the Princes of Israel who marvelled at her courage and tenacity.

Judith and her maidservant escape with the head of Holofernes from the Assyrian camp

The head of Holofernes was displayed on the walls of the camp and in the morning, when the Assyrians awoke to find their king dead and wailed in terror, the Israelite army fell upon them and defeated them, saving Israel from destruction.

The prayer of Judith was sung ever after in memory of her valour and courage. Although the tale is rather gruesome the sentiments of her prayer are timeless and sublime.

These marvellous words were turned into equally sublime music by that most remarkable of English Catholic composers, Thomas Tallis, when he wrote his homophonic piece Spem in Alium, which requires no less than 40 voices to sing all of its intricately interwoven 40 parts.

Hear this most extraordinarily beautiful and piercing piece of Rennaissance choral music here on Youtube:


There! Is it not an amazing piece of music? It could have been written by the very Angels themselves.

Friends of Eoghain Murphy in London were fortunate enough to be invited, for his 40th birthday on Friday last, to a "Salve" at St James' Church, Spanish Place, in St Marylebone, London, to hear this most marvellous piece of music sung by a full 40-part schola.

Thereafter we repaired to the Oriental Club for a reception in the main gallery to celebrate his birthday.

True to form, Eoghain attended splendidly attired in mauve, crushed velvet smoking jacket and Edwardian smoking cap with golden tassle!

For style, for colour, for amusement, for enjoyment and for fun - be a Catholic.

All this - and the fullness of truth, too!

Accept no substitutes!


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