Janet Cardiff The Forty Part Motet (A reworking of “Spem in Alium,” by Thomas Tallis 1556) 2001

  • Not on view

In The Forty Part Motet, the sublime glory that the divine has held in the imagination of believers for centuries is made palpable. Cardiff's installation is a reworking of a choral piece for forty male voices (bass, baritone, alto, tenor, and child soprano) by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis, which he likely composed to honor Queen Elizabeth I on her fortieth birthday

The audio component of The Forty Part Motet is a fourteen-minute loop: eleven minutes of singing and three minutes of intermission. The voices of forty singers performing Spem in Alium Nunquam habui were each recorded separately and are played back in the installation via forty individual loudspeakers on tripods. The speakers are arranged in a large circle, and as visitors wander among them and progress through the work, they hear each distinct voice and also experience different combinations and harmonies. A visitor can stand in the middle of the installation and hear all forty voices as they unify into one musical piece or move close to an individual loudspeaker for an intimate experience with a single voice.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art , p. 195.
Forty-track sound recording, forty speakers
14 min.
Salisbury Cathedral Choir
Field Art Projects
George Bures Miller
Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Rolf Hoffmann
Object number
© 2019 Janet Cardiff. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.
Media and Performance

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