Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The wall of sound - sixteenth century style

Record producer Phil Spector is famous for having created the "wall of sound" technique back in the 1960s, described in Wikipedia as a 'dense, layered and reverberant sound'. But I was reminded by something that popped up on the steam wireless as I drove home the other day, that the wall of sound was nothing new in Spector's day. (Geddit? Inspector? Suit yourself.)

The man responsible for the Tudor wall of sound was Thomas Tallis. He lived from around 1505 to 1585 and really took English music and dragged it kicking and screaming into the best 'modern' polyphonic style. He could write subtle, compact pieces. His hymn tune that would be used by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis is quite simple, but beautiful and unusual for a hymn. It was written in response to a request from the new Queen Elizabeth to have something a congregation could sing. However he could also go over the top in experimentation, and this is where his own version of the wall of sound comes in.

Most polyphonic music has three, four or five parts. You might occasionally double up, so have perhaps eight voices, each singing a different line at once. But Tallis's motet Spem in Alium features forty separate parts. That's not 40 people with ten per part, but 40 people, each singing an independent line at the same time. Sometimes, frankly, it's a bit of a mess - but often it's glorious, particularly when the voices suddenly come together and move in unison.

Why not check it out:


Picture from Wikipedia - allegedly Tallis but not produced until at least 150 years after his death so bears no resemblance

No comments:

Post a Comment