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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Alessandro Striggio: Ecce beatam lucem

We are greatly enjoying Stiggio’s 40 part motet Ecce beatam lucem at present,even though this is not our usual taste in music.

Alessandro Striggio was born in Mantua but we first hear of him in Florence in the late 1550s and early 1560s. Although he wrote instrumental music all of his surviving music is choral. He acted as a diplomat for the Medici and in this capacity visited London in 1567. It seems likely that Ecce beatam lucem was performed during this visit and Thomas Tallis was later challenged to write something as good by the Duke of Norfolk, in response to the popularity of Striggio’s work. There is an argument that Tallis wrote his piece for one of the Octagonal halls in Nonsuch Palace, Henry FitzAlan’s country house (which he bought from Queen Mary). The hall had four first floor balconies so that Tallis may have divided his eight five-part choirs (Stiggio's work is for ten four-part choirs) so some were on the first floor and some on the ground with a choir on each side-the original surround sound.

The fact that Tallis met the Duke’s challenge is incontrovertible and nowadays the Striggio piece is little heard (except, coincidentally, in the Proms the other week). One of the rare cases where the cash-in work is superior to the original; it would have been a bit like The Monkees turning out to be a better pop group than The Beatles.
The site of Nonsuch Palace is only ten miles away and we remember having a walk in the grounds once. Strange to think that the first performance of one of our favourite works probably took place so close by..

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