“The Forty Part Motet” at The Cloisters Review – Celestial Exponential


For those of us without voice quality to be part of a choir, it is always a curiosity as to how music would sound in the midst of fellow singers.  “The Forty Part Motet” music installation by Janet Cardiff at The Cloisters removes this mystery, and does so in a setting that catapults the celestial music to a higher notch of heavenly.



Imagine first arriving at The Cloisters, which at this time of year still has ample autumnal splendor. 



The view of The Palisades and the park setting make the traffic congestion of downtown Manhattan seem far away.




The Cloisters building itself is not a copy of any one particular medieval church or castle, but rather a combination of motifs from that era.  



Inside there are religious objects of great artistry, scattered throughout chapels and halls.



“The Forty Part Motet” composed by Janet Cardiff had been heard elsewhere, but one can’t imagine a better setting than The Cloisters Fuentidueña Chapel, which features the ca. 1175–1200 apse from the church of San Martín at Fuentidueña, near Segovia, Spain.




This is a 14-minute work called “Spem in alium numquam habui” (1556?/1573?) by Tudor  composer Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505–1585). Spem in alium, translates as “In No Other Is My Hope”.   This is celestial religious music reaching for the heavens.



The immersion in the music, which makes it better yet  comes from the set up of 8 sets of five voices-bass, baritone, alto, tenor and child soprano-- one per speaker. 



You can walk up and plant yourself by one speaker, or in a set of five speakers, or somewhere in the center of the chapel.   In each position you hear it differently and through such sampling the ability of the music to transport is augmented. 


Some will lie on the floor and gaze at the art.  Some will sit or stand with eyes closed. Some will walk the oval of speakers back and forth.


It is difficult to imagine how anyone could wean themselves away from hearing this Motet at least three times.



My recommendation is to do that, wander amidst the halls of religious and other medieval art, and return again for another injection of Motet wandering to hear it yet again with refreshed ears. 



You don’t tire of it.


The exhibit runs through December 8, 7 days a week.


How to Reach The Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Drive

Subway: IND A train to 190th Street, exit by elevator and walk through the park or take No. 4

bus (Fort Tryon Park—The Cloisters). Bus: No. 4 Madison Avenue (Fort Tryon Park—The

Cloisters). Car: Henry Hudson Parkway north to first exit after George Washington Bridge. Free

parking available.


For More Information (212) 535-7710; or visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art website


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Photos: Peter Kachergis unless otherwise indicated in photo caption 



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