Thomas Tallis served in the Chapel Royal for some 40 years, composing under four Monarchs with widely differing religious practices. Tallis was among the first to set English words to music for the rites of the Church of England, although most of his vocal music was written in Latin. A composer of great contrapuntal skill, his works show intense expressivity and are cast in a bewildering variety of styles.
O salutaris hostia, a late work, was never published during Tallis’s lifetime. It stands apart from his other motets in that the five voices are widely and evenly spaced. The motet opens with a broad gesture in imitation that begins in the sopranos and is passed down through the five voices. A sense of hope is affirmed in the final line of text underscoring the assistance that will come from the Saving Victim. However, notice the desperation of the upward-leaping motive of supplication, followed by many extended reiterations of the word auxilium or “aid.”
© Ryan Turner