Friday, March 5, 2021

The Tallis tune that sparked a fantasy


 Of course I love Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis"... who doesn't? But I never really thought about it. It is this ethereal music and whenever I have heard it I have concentrated on it, cleared away other distractions, paused to enjoy. But I never wondered where it came from, what melody inspired him.

I am sure this is not a state secret. CD notes I am sure explain it, and I probably have an LP or two in the house that tell you everything you need to know and then some, as we say here in Buffalo. 

But now I am kind of glad I did not find out that way. It is more fun to find it out backwards!

And I found out one day singing in the choir. We were working up some of the tunes Tallis wrote for Archbishop Parker's Psalter. Archbishop Parker was the Archbishop of Canterbury. And I am not being disrespectful writing "tune." I am being accurate. We were on the third tune and that was how it was identified, "Third Tune."

All of a sudden I heard this theme, this gently rocking melody you hear in the "Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis." Now I am going to sound jaded but I have to admit: my thought as I sang on was: I have heard this before. Someone ripped off Thomas Tallis.

Ha, ha! I could not explore the thought much because the lyrics took all my attention. It is not easy to sing the greatest hits of 1587. The words do not come naturally -- "Why fum'th in sight, the Gentiles' plight" begins this number, and it goes from there. It took until the next verse for it to come into focus .... a British composer, a British piece... Oh my goodness, "Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis"!

This was the theme!

Or the tune, to put it more accurately. It is the third in the set in the above video because that is what it is. And you will notice they are here performed by the Tallis Scholars. One day that will be me. I will be a Tallis scholar.

Until then I will rejoice in this bit of knowledge.

In this fantasy. In this .... tune.