Photo: Arrow
Photo: Arrow

The Tallis Scholars‘ recording of Thomas Tallis’s magnificent Spem in alium, for 40 unaccompanied voices, has today reached Number 1 on the UK’s Official Classical Singles Chart, ending a 3 week run at the top of the chart for Luciano Pavarotti and overcoming a strong challenge from Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.

Tallis’s Spem in alium is featured in the controversial literary sensation 50 Shades of Grey by E L James. So many readers, after reading the book, have been downloading The Tallis Scholars’ recording in recent weeks that it has steadily risen in the Official Classical Singles Chart, from Number 20, to Number 13, to Number 8, to Number 7 and today to Number 1.

E L James said:

I am delighted to have introduced so many of my readers to this amazing 16th century piece of music, it is absolutely wonderful and the recording from the Tallis Scholars is particularly special. A deserved number one!!”

Composed around 1570 in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, Spem in alium is written for eight unaccompanied choirs of five voices each, and is one of the most remarkable choral works ever written. Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, said:

“I am thrilled that Spem in alium has attracted such a large new audience. It is one of the most remarkable achievements of the human brain, an extra-ordinary and moving piece written for 40 individual singers. After performing Spem in alium for nearly 40 years I still cannot conceive how Thomas Tallis set about writing it.  Even with 21st century computers it would be a daunting task. For me it ranks alongside the best works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and confirms Tallis as England’s greatest composer. It’s on my iPod!”

According to The Official Chart’s Company’s sales data, the past two years have seen a surge in individual classical track download sales in the UK – up 46% in 2011 compared to 2010 (from 834,000 to 1.2 million). This trend has continued in 2012, and in the first quarter of this year, some 284,000 classical downloads were sold, a 34% increase on the 212,000 sold in the first three months of 2011.

The Official Charts Company’s managing director, Martin Talbot, said:

It’s fantastic to see Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars enjoying chart success off the back of the 50 Shades Of Grey publishing phenomenon, coming just months after the Military Wives became the first choir to top the Official Singles Chart. It shows the changing ways in which classical fans are buying their music – track by track, as well as album by album.”

The success of Spem in alium isn’t limited to the UK with strong sales in the US, Canada and Australia, Sweden and The Netherlands. The American critic, Anastasia Tsioulcas, writes in her blog for NPR:

This Tallis Scholars recording would definitely be on my own list of desert island albums, and anything that gets this gorgeousness out in front of a (much, much) wider audience is great.”