Spem in alium (Thomas Tallis)

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Music files

Hugh Keyte edition (2020)

Full score

  • (Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64682:    Score information: A3, 21 pages, 633 kB   


  • Choir I:(Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64683:      Score information: A3, 40 pages, 570 kB   
  • Choir II:(Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64684:      Score information: A4, 40 pages, 569 kB   
  • Choir III:(Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64685:      Score information: A4, 40 pages, 563 kB   
  • Choir IV:(Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64686:     Score information: A4, 38 pages, 551 kB   

The Thorough Bass

  • (Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64687:      Score information: A4, 3 pages, 57 kB   

Piano reduction for rehearsal

  • (Posted 2021-06-06)  CPDL #64688:      Score information: A4, 9 pages, 175 kB   
Editor: Andrew Leslie Cooper (submitted 2021-06-06).   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: This edition is part of Tallis' Virtual Voice, a project conceived and sponsored by the Thomas Tallis Society centred around Spem in alium. It comprises a new multitrack recording by Andrew Leslie Cooper, a comprehensive performance resource for the piece, and this radical new edition by Hugh Keyte. Hugh’s edition is particularly significant since it is the first in recent times to have been derived primarily from analysis of the earliest surviving source (BL Egerton 3512); all other extant editions appear to derive from the not entirely successful attempt made by an unnamed 18 th century antiquarian (Royal Music MS 4.g.1), with issues such as obvious textural underlay problems and missing emphases carried over. Furthermore Hugh’s edition recognises that the piece is conceived for four ten part double choirs rather than eight five part choirs as popularly construed. For more information go to www.AndrewLeslieCooper.com/TallisVV. For the editor's full introduction to the edition, click here.

Full scores

  • (Posted 2013-12-12)  CPDL #25949:       
Editor: Mick Swithinbank (submitted 2013-12-12).   Score information: A4, 17 pages, 202 kB   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: Reduction from 40 voices to 11 (SSSAATTBarBarBB) by Mick Swithinbank. The 11-part arrangement of Spem in alium is intended for use by anyone who does not happen to have eight 5-part choirs to hand, for the enjoyment of singers and to give them an overview of the work. When the full score is sung, only the audience can hear what is going on: the singers cannot. The full complement of voices, such as it is, is used only in the few places where Tallis used his full 40. It is recommended that the singers stand as indicated at the bottom of page 1 in order to gain the benefit of antiphonal effects. The numerous dissonances in the score may sound harsher in this arrangement, because there are fewer other competing voices, and can be attenuated by singing one of the notes involved more softly if the performers so wish. I would be interested to receive any feedback from singers. Sectional scores are available by e-mail upon request. (MickSwithinbank at gmail.com). As from September 2019, a similar arrangement of the work that is commonly thought to have inspired Tallis - Striggio's Ecce beatam lucem - is also available on cpdl. However, recent research by Hugh Keyte (2021) - see link supplied with his score of Spem in alium - suggests that Spem was prompted not by the Striggio motet itself but by the Mass that Striggio himself based on it, scored for 40 voices, and for 60 in the Agnus Dei. [Midi file added 2/10/2019]
  • (Posted 2010-10-30)  CPDL #22556:    Score information: A4, 23 pages, 664 kB   
Piano reduction:   Score information: A4, 5 pages, 166 kB   
Editor: Philip Legge (submitted 2010-10-30).   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: Full score, all eight SATBarB choirs, 40 staves per page. A4 format, but should be printed or enlarged to A3 format. Individual parts also available below. Minor revision posted on 8 April 2006 to fix two errata: missing underlay in Alto 6 in bars 74-76, and a breve rest mistakenly left as a semibreve in Tenor 1 in bar 110. Subsequent major revision posted on 15 February 2008, adding bibliography and commentary, expanding editorial notes, and correcting one more manuscript error: bar 75, Alto 2, last note should be c', not d'.
Note: CPDL #22556 is transposed a whole tone higher than written, suitable for performance by SSATB forces (and includes the thorough bass).
  • (Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08558:   
Editor: Philip Legge (submitted 2004-11-28).   Score information: A4, 28 pages, 764 kB   Copyright: Personal


  • 8 Soprano parts:(Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08553:  (378 KB).
  • 8 Alto parts:(Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08554:  (452 KB).
  • 8 Tenor parts:(Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08555:  (380 KB).
  • 8 Baritone parts:(Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08556:  (378 KB).
  • 8 Bass parts:(Posted 2004-11-28)  CPDL #08557:  (355 KB).
Editor: Philip Legge (submitted 2004-11-28).   Score information: A4, 28 pages   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: Each partbook contains eight equal voices, one from each of the eight choirs. Pagination of partbooks is identical to full score above. A thorough bass part is provided, which indicates the lowest sounding notes being sung. Partbooks now include a second set of text: the English contrafactum Sing and glorify that was sung for the coronation of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1610. Updated 15 February 2008 (alto partbook incorporating correction mentioned above).


Choirs 1 & 2
  • (Posted 2003-01-19)  CPDL #15804:      Score information: A4, 18 pages, 537 kB   
  • (Posted 2009-07-19)  CPDL #19805:      Score information: A4, 32 pages, 409 kB   
  • (Posted 2010-10-30)  CPDL #22557:      Score information: A4, 13 pages, 340 kB   
Choirs 3 & 4
  • (Posted 2003-01-19)  CPDL #15805:      Score information: A4, 17 pages, 518 kB   
  • (Posted 2009-07-19)  CPDL #19806:      Score information: A4, 32 pages, 387 kB   
  • (Posted 2010-10-30)  CPDL #22558:      Score information: A4, 12 pages, 316 kB   
Choirs 5 & 6
  • (Posted 2003-01-19)  CPDL #15806:    Score information: A4, 18 pages, 515 kB   
  • (Posted 2009-07-19)  CPDL #19807:      Score information: A4, 28 pages, 370 kB   
  • (Posted 2010-10-30)  CPDL #22559:      Score information: A4, 13 pages, 316 kB   
Choirs 7 & 8
  • (Posted 2003-01-19)  CPDL #15807:      Score information: A4, 16 pages, 492 kB   
  • (Posted 2009-07-19)  CPDL #19808:      Score information: A4, 28 pages, 348 kB   
  • (Posted 2010-10-30)  CPDL #22560:      Score information: A4, 11 pages, 296 kB   
Editor: Philip Legge (submitted 2008-01-19).   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: Each choirbook contains two choirs with a full piano reduction, cued with references to choir entries. The pagination is not identical with the full score above, or between different choirbooks; hence these scores have rehearsal numbers corresponding to the full score and partbook page numbering, and continuous bar numbering of the piano reduction. CPDL ##15804–07 and ##19805–08 include second text: the English contrafactum Sing and glorify that was sung for the coronation of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1610. The CPDL ##19805–08 set with 28 or 32 pages are large format versions with one full choir system to a page (instead of two systems to a page), and lack the supplementary matter (title page, notes, bibliography, comments). If desired these can replace the equivalent pages in the smaller format scores. The CPDL ##22557–60 set with 11 to 13 pages are transposed versions a whole tone higher than written pitch. These also lack the supplementary matter found in the ##15804–07 set.

Individual chorus scores (other parts reduced)

  • Chorus 1 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01151:  (396 KB).
  • Chorus 2 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01152:  (400 KB).
  • Chorus 3 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01153:  (400 KB).
  • Chorus 4 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01154:  (400 KB).
  • Chorus 5 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01155:  (400 KB).
  • Chorus 6 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01156:  (400 KB).
  • Chorus 7 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01157:  (396 KB).
  • Chorus 8 parts: (Posted 2000-07-19)  CPDL #01158:  (392 KB).
Editor: David K. Means (submitted 2000-07-19).   Score information: Letter, 34 pages   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: Individual chorus parts, with the other 7 choral parts in reduction. Pagination of each choir score is identical.

Individual chorus scores (no reductions)

  • Chorus 1 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11073:       (7 pages, 136 kbytes).
  • Chorus 2 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11074:       (7 pages, 140 kbytes).
  • Chorus 3 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11075:       (7 pages, 132 kbytes).
  • Chorus 4 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11076:       (7 pages, 130 kbytes).
  • Chorus 5 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11077:       (7 pages, 128 kbytes).
  • Chorus 6 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11078:       (6 pages, 126 kbytes).
  • Chorus 7 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11079:       (6 pages, 114 kbytes).
  • Chorus 8 parts: (Posted 2006-02-25)  CPDL #11080:       (5 pages, 110 kbytes).
Editor: Sabine Cassola (submitted 2006-02-25).   Score information: A4   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes:


  • (Posted 2020-06-04)  CPDL #59051:     
Editor: Gary D. Cannon (submitted 2020-06-04).   Score information: Letter, 3 pages, 50 kB   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: Instrumental part for continuo organ, with figured bass.
  • (Posted 2010-11-10)  CPDL #22591:  (PDFs)
Editor: Sabine Cassola (submitted 2010-11-10).   Score information: A4, 82 pages, 2.22 MB   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: All 40 individual voice parts, and separate basso continuo part.

General Information

Title: Spem in alium nunquam habui
Composer: Thomas Tallis

Number of voices: 40vv   Voicing: 8 choirs × SATBarB
Genre: SacredMotet

Language: Latin
Instruments: A capella, but may be accompanied by an organ thorough bass ad libitum.

First published: 1571
Description: One of a very small number of extant 40–part motets dating from the 16th Century, another being Alessandro Striggio Sr's Ecce beatam lucem. N.B. This motet is not the source for Palestrina's Missa Spem in alium, published almost contemporaneously in 1570. Palestrina's parody mass is based on a 4–part motet with a similar text, by Jacquet of Mantua (Jacques Colebault), dating from 1539.

External websites:

Original text and translations

Original text and translations may be found at Spem in alium.

No manuscripts of the original Latin motet are known to exist; the earliest copies preserved were made in the early 17th Century during the reign of James I, when an English contrafactum was made for the investiture of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1610. The text sung was:

English.png English text

Sing and glorify heaven’s high Majesty,
Author of this blessed harmony;
Sound divine praises
With melodious graces;
This is the day, holy day, happy day,
For ever give it greeting,
Love and joy, heart and voice meeting:
Live Henry princely and mighty,
Harry live in thy creation happy.

(This text is given as a alternative in the performance partbooks for CPDL #8558.)

Additional notes

The following is from the prefatory notes to the full score edition, edited by Philip Legge:

The recent rediscovery of a forty– and sixty–part mass setting composed in the sixteenth century by the Mantuan gentleman, diplomat and musician Alessandro Striggio (senior) has made this species of composition less exceedingly rare than hitherto known. The researches of Davitt Moroney have made it almost certain that the extraordinary work performed in London in June 1567, and which formed the direct inspiration for this equally astonishing motet of Thomas Tallis, was the same composition of Striggio, namely the Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno, written variously in 8–40 parts, with a brief but climactic 60–voice setting of Agnus Dei.

In addition to the letters of Striggio himself, a 1611 account by one Thomas Wateridge, a law student at the Temple, bears witness to the story. According to his account, after hearing the 40–part “song” a nobleman:

asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe […] Tallice beinge very skilfull was felt to try whether he would undertake ye Matter, wch he did and made one of 40 partes wch was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house.

Arundel House was the London home of Henry FitzAlan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. However his country residence, Nonsuch Palace, possessed an octagonal banqueting hall, and a catalogue of music in the library at Nonsuch, drawn up in 1596, reveals the existence of a score of Spem in alium. In addition to its octagonal layout the banqueting hall had four first-floor balconies, so that it is possible Tallis designed for the music to be sung not only in the round, but with four of the eight choirs singing from the balconies.

Musically, the motet is a tour de force on many levels, not least for Tallis’ masterful exploitation of his choirs’ spatial distribution. If the choirs are arranged in circular fashion sequentially by number, then the music “rotates” through the opening points of imitation on Spem in alium nunquam habui (choirs I to IV) and Præter in te, Deus Israel (choirs V to VIII). After a short interjection from choirs III and IV (which functions antiphonally as "decani" to the "cantoris" of choirs VII and VIII) Tallis completes the circle with the entry of the final bass voice of Choir VIII; shortly afterwards, at the fourtieth breve of the work, all forty voices enter in the first of a series of massive welters of sound, which has been described as "polyphonic detailism". The next imitative section which follows at qui irasceris et propitius eris reverses the direction of rotation as new voices enter against varied countersubjects in the parts already established.

Tallis also manages to combine the exchanges between choirs in four different antiphonal arrangements, by amalgamating the singers in four groups of two choirs (as hinted at above), so antiphony can pass back between both "north" and "south", but also between "east" and "west"), but also as two groups of four choirs (ie one massive 20–voice choir against another) which can be arranged in two different ways (north and west versus east and south, or north and east versus south and west).

After the most intricate chordal passage so disposed between the various choirs, Tallis contrives the entire choir of 40 voices to enter as one after a pause, "upon a magical change of harmony". With the words respice humilitatem nostram Tallis ends with the most strikingly unhumble polyphonic passage yet heard, framed by the strong harmonic rhythms of the ensemble. The view that this might be Tallis' opus magnum is intriguingly suggested by Hugh Keyte's observation of a possible numerological significance in the work's duration being exactly 69 long notes: in the Latin alphabet, TALLIS adds up to 69.