The Forty Part Motet (2001), a sound installation by Janet Cardiff (Canadian, born 1957), will be the first presentation of contemporary art at The Cloisters. Regarded as the artist's masterwork, and consisting of forty high-fidelity speakers positioned on stands in a large oval configuration throughout the Fuentidueña Chapel, the fourteen-minute work, with a three-minute spoken interlude, will continuously play an eleven-minute reworking of the forty-part motet Spem in alium numquam habui (1556?/1573?) by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505–1585). Spem in alium, which translates as "In No Other Is My Hope," is perhaps Tallis's most famous composition. Visitors are encouraged to walk among the loudspeakers and hear the individual unaccompanied voices—bass, baritone, alto, tenor, and child soprano—one part per speaker—as well as the polyphonic choral effect of the combined singers in an immersive experience. The Forty Part Motet is most often presented in a neutral gallery setting, but in this case the setting is the Cloisters' Fuentidueña Chapel, which features the late twelfth-century apse from the church of San Martín at Fuentidueña, near Segovia, Spain, on permanent loan from the Spanish Government. Set within a churchlike gallery space, and with superb acoustics, it has for more than fifty years proved a fine venue for concerts of early music.
The large space was filled with people as it was that last day, and I was sorry that I hadn't made an effort to see this earlier when it might have been possible to wander around more freely and listen to the various voices from their individual speakers. It was interesting to watch how people listened and reacted to this short but stirring presentation and I took a few pictures with a new camera that I needed to test. It was beautiful to see the joy and wonder on so many faces.
The Fuentidueña Chapel, looking toward the entrance. The speakers placed around the room each represent an individual voice.
The interior of the half dome is decorated with a Catalan fresco depicting the Virgin and Child in Majesty and the Adoration of the Magi from the church of the Virgin near Tredòs, and a magnificent twelfth-century painted Spanish wood crucifix hangs from the arch.
Many people recorded the 14 minute presentation and like me, took photos while listening.
Gathering and transporting manna, 15th century, Munich
Medallion of the face of Jesus carved from Baltic Amber, 12th century
St. James the Greater, alabaster, gilding and polychromy. Gil de Burgos, 15th century Spain
Room that houses the Unicorn tapestries, which was extremely crowded.