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November 07, 2007

The Tallis Fantasia


BBC3's Discovering Music considers The Tallis Fantasia. Stunning. Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral on September 6, 1910.*

The program was primarily devoted to Sir Edward Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which may partly account for its relatively cool reception. But its treatment, unusual for its day, of the unusual source material may also have puzzled the audience.

Vaughan Williams encountered Tallis' hymn while editing The English Hymnal in 1906; it had first appeared in Archbishop Parker's Metrical Psalter in 1567, set to the words, "Why fumeth in fight?" The peculiar modal qualities of the tune, with its prominent flatted seventh, not only allowed the composer considerable harmonic freedom from the prevailing strictures of diatonicism and chromaticism, but also made possible the simultaneous sense of the ancient and the modern that is the work's hallmark.

It must have been both Potterish and extraordinary; the acoustics of Gloucester Cathedral are just otherworldly...

This is a sound file split into six parts and uploaded to YouTube. There is no video component so possibly listenable even to dial-up using Flea-readers. Alternately, the whole piece may be downloaded as a RealMedia file from the Discovering Music archive.

* The photo pictures a carving in Gloucester Cathedral made around 1280. The photo itself was borrowed from The English Square Fydell page, one of a number of wonderful, unprofitable instruments... "Some all-but-forgotten bowed instruments from centuries ago produce sounds so ghastly and aggressive that it's easy to understand why they may not generate much revenue for their makers."

Posted by Ghost of a flea at November 7, 2007 06:57 AM


Thanks for the links.

I bought my son R. Vaughn Williams' Concerto for Oboe and Strings, hoping that he would find Williams work as attractive as I do. Unfortunately, his teacher has him working on Saint-Saens and Bellini, and with auditions coming up in January, he doesn't have the time, now, to play around with the Williams.

I guess that's why God invented time...so that everything doesn't happen at once.

I do kinda chuckle while listening to the narrator of the BBC piece. I can imagine this "announcer" doing voice-overs for "Top Gear". I'd rather hear the writer speak his own words. That's the feller who understands the meaning of the music.

Posted by: OregonGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 12:42 PM

My favorite, alongside Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine".

Posted by: Dan [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 02:59 PM

Excellent, thank you for the audio page link as well.. I am all for flling my life with potterish music. As an aside, I am truly annoyed at the recent host of the daytime CBC classical station.. I expect him to jump into an ad for LEONS! at any moment.

Posted by: Gorthos [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2007 09:17 PM