50 Shades of Grey Triggers Sales of Choral Piece

Hear an Excerpt From 'Spem in alium' on Thursday Morning

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tallis Scholars Tallis Scholars (Eric Richmond)

Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James racy best-selling novel that has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, is turning readers on to an unlikely piece of music: Spem in Alium, by the English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis.

Tallis’s motet, featured in the first installment of the steamy "mommy porn" trilogy, has reached number seven on the British classical singles chart. The single-track download comes from a 2003 recording by the Tallis Scholars.

In addition, a hastily assembled digital compilation (“50 Shades of Classical Music”) featuring the motet has topped the U.S. iTunes classical music chart. The collection opens with another piece cited in the novel, the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s Lakme.

Peter Phillips, the founder and director of the Tallis Scholars, said in a statement released by his record label, "I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey but I am most grateful to the author for introducing so many new listeners to the musical sensation that is Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium. Written during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth it features 40 individual voices singing in Latin that combine to a thrilling climax for the words 'respice humilitatem nostram' (be mindful of our humiliation)."

In the scene involving the Tallis motet, the protagonist Christian Grey turns on his car stereo and proceeds to inform his love interest, Anastasia, about his "eclectic" taste in music — "everything from Thomas Tallis to the Kings of Leon." Grey says the Tallis is "very esoteric, I know, but it's also magical."

Grey has quickly gained notoriety as a "naughty novel," leaving some women embarrassed to read their copy in public. Despite mixed critical reception, a film adaptation is in the works, to be produced by the team behind “The Social Network."


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Comments [5]

Lara from NYC

My personal favorite is the 1974 EMI recording by David Wulstan and the Clerkes of Oxenford. Absolutely phenomenal. Glad to see I was ahead of the curve in enjoying this motet.

Apr. 17 2014 04:30 PM
Judith from Brookline, MA

I seem to be behind the times. For me, it was this brief article that alerted me to the existence of "Fifty Shades of Gray".

Jul. 12 2012 09:08 AM
Claire Reilly-Taylor from New Jersey

Why not be happy that a "pop" sensation (perhaps not literary) has opened so many people up to different and unique music genre they may not have heard of before or even had an idea about? Ever heard of Oprah??

Jul. 11 2012 09:27 PM
The Graefin from New Jersey

A desecration of a phenomenal piece of music. I've lately seen it used in fiction by another writer in a way that is ineffably profound. The writer, who, I know, won't waste her time or money on cheap popular books, will be gutted when she finds out about this truly shabby use of the Tallis.

Perhaps E.L. James thought the title was SPERM in alium.

Jul. 11 2012 07:53 PM

I'm sure the author had the translation "be mindful of our humiliation" in mind when writing a BDSM scene involving "Spem," but it's a pretty misleading and inaccurate translation. "Humility" and "lowliness" are words that make much more sense in context. Not Mr. Wise's fault, though, since this is the translation that's been spreading around in connection to the book.

So thrilled that the Tallis Scholars are selling more CDs, but sad that the driving force behind the increased sales is something so...devoid of meaning.

Jul. 11 2012 04:06 PM

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