Renaissance classics: Tallis Scholars back in town

The university community, or should I say the female section of that community, loves those a cappella groups. It's a predominantly male dominated sport– get some friends of yours together, start humming a bass line, and boom, you’re in.
Of course I’m glossing over the hard work most a cappella groups put into their covers of Radiohead classics, but something always struck me a little funny about the quarter-back-like aura that purveyors of a instrument-less tune seem to hold on campus. Maybe they would get more respect from me and others of a similar mind-set if they were to take a lesson or two from the Tallis Scholars, the world-renowned vocal ensemble performing at UVA's Cabell Hall Auditorium Tuesday night, December 3.
Taking its name from Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), the most renowned English composer of the Renaissance, the Tallis Scholars were formed in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Phillips brought together "choral scholars from Oxford and Cambridge Chapel Choirs" to form the Tallis Scholars, whose performances of Renaissance sacred music (music that was specifically written for use in church services) quickly established them at the forefront of this genre.
The Renaissance brought about numerous societal changes– one of the most important for the arts was the recognizing of artists as not just learned craftsmen, but inspired geniuses. This new recognition seemed to spur composers to even greater heights, resulting in more expressive work.
One of the new tricks of the trade was polyphony (though introduced in the 11th century), "music consisting of several (two or more) melodic lines, each having individual significance and independence," which became more complex. A form of polyphony known as imitation– "where one musical line shares or imitates the same musical theme of the proceeding line– to introduce complexities by a simpler means" became popular, and can be found in works by English composer William Byrd (1543-1623), a featured composer at Tuesday night's performance. The other featured composers will be William Cornysh (1465-1523), Robert White (1538-1574– he died of the plague), and Robert Parsons (1530-1572– thought to have drowned), all English as well.
Just listening to a recording of the ensemble performing "In dulci jubilo," a Christmas carol by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), and actually one of the simpler Renaissance pieces, has filled me with a new respect for vocal-only work. Even if you don't believe, there is something wondrous about so many voices singing together, filling the air with harmonies and divergent melody lines, something that takes your breath away.

The Tallis Scholars are at Cabell Hall Auditorium at 8:15pm on December 3. $22-orchestra; $18-loge & balcony; and $9-students, partial-view seats, and standing room only.

Read more on: tallis scholars