top of page

Spem in Alium 

A 40 Voice Motet

Spem in Alium means hope in no other and is a Latin text talking about having hope in God. The piece is a motet which means that it is a religious piece of music that is sung A cappella (with no instruments).


The motet is written for eight choirs of five voices each - soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. Tallis wanted all of the singers to stand in a horseshoe shape. The motet begins with a single voice from the first choir. Then other voices join in imitation, each in turn stopping as the music moves around the eight choirs. After the last voice has finished, all forty voices enter at the same time for a few measures. Then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one. There is another forty-voice section, after which the choirs sing in pairs, throwing the sound across the space between them. Finally all voices join for the final section of the piece.

Spem in Alium is one of the most challenging and beautiful pieces to sing. Here are some different performances.

Janet Cardiff - The 40 Voice Motet

Janet Cardiff is a Canadian artist who works mostly with sound and something she calls sound installations. She has created a form she calls audio walks - a chance for people to walk through a piece of music. One of her sound installations is The 40 Voice Motet which uses Spem in Alium. It's been displayed in many different places all over the world.

bottom of page