The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (100): Spem in Covidium

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (100): Spem in Covidium


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2020

Thomas Tallis’s motet, Spem in alium, written for 8 choirs with 5 parts each, is one of the most intricate works of music of its time.

In the age of Covid, when singing spells mortal danger, it has fallen silent.

In the middle of England, members of the Parish of Nottingham St Peter and All Saints set out remotely to resurrect it.

We listen in wonderment.



  • fflambeau says:

    What does the curious title mean?

    • Susan Bradley says:

      It’s the first part of a Latin phrase: ‘spem in alium nunquam habui’. Roughly translatable as ‘I have never had hope in any other’. (referring to God). So the bit ‘spem in alium’ is possibly too fragmentary for the English language, but almost something like ‘hope in another’.

    • Ron Swanson says:

      The article title is Hope in Covid. Spem in Alium means hope in none but it’s a shorting of hope in none other but thee, God of Israel.

      • Maria says:

        Here we go! Latin experts come out when it’s Norman’s British humour of Spem in Covidium that gets missed! LOL! And the fact that those is a normal good amateur unpaid British parish church choir in the middle of England – not London paid professionals -doing a wonderful job, not about a pedantic Latin lesson!! LOL even more!

        • Susan Bradley says:

          The commenter asked what the curious title meant. The title is Spem in alium. If you mean the pun of Covid in alium, then that is a headline, not a title. Neither person offering translations said a single word about the quality of the choir, nor the quality of Norman’s pun. There was no pedantry. We siattempted to help, unlike your snide comment. And I happen to be British, and yes, I studied Latin. Here’s a British phrase that won’t need translating: shove it.

          • John Marks says:

            Dear Susan,

            IMHO you deserve a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” for that reply!

            BTW, despite my Jewish last name, I was trained as a pre-Vatican II RC altar boy, and to this day I remember the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar in Latin.

            BTW2, one of the charming attributes ascribed to the woman described in the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn/Johnny Mercer song “Satin Doll” is: “Speaks Latin that satin doll.”



    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      —–What does the curious title mean?

      GIYF = Google is your friend.

  • José Bergher says:

    Fantastic music. Thank you.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    It is indeed a glorious work.
    I have a feeling that it won’t be silent for long.

  • Ron Swanson says:

    Spem in Alium virtually is much easier to do virtually than in person. You can just record the part again, if you make a mistake. Nonetheless, some good voices and well executed.

  • Nick says:


  • Nicholas Riddle says:

    Splendid though this is, Spem in alium certainly did not fall silent. For example, Stile antico recorded a virtual version available on YouTube, and there are others. This is an excellent addition, but actually not unique.

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    Thank you for this lovely performance. One of those pieces where the power of silence in music is glorified. The moments when the singers re-enter after each silence are memorable. Wonderful when sung/heard live to hear the sound passing around the choir. Better than the best 1960’s stereo, and better than Stockhausen’s Gruppen

    • Ron Swanson says:

      We went to Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers at the proms a few years back. They were using the entire auditorium for the performance. A solo singer would appear up in the gods singing down to the stage. They got the theatricality of the vespers, which you cant catch from a recording. From where we were sitting, we could see the Mezzo kick off her heals at the side of the stage and dash off to get into position. It was slightly comic but also humanising and to us it added to the experience.

  • E says:

    This is exquisite. The picture itself shows an “installation” as fine as those to be seen in an art gallery. “In wonderment,” yes.