Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet


Janet Cardiff, Forty-Part Motet, 2001.

Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010

January 2013 marks the launch of the WAG’s exciting new partnership with the National Gallery of Canada: NGC@WAG. This venture will see the WAG host a number of exhibitions drawn almost exclusively from the NGC’s collection over the next three years. The WAG joins the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton) and Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (Toronto) as the third satellite gallery for the NGC’s collection!

The inaugural exhibition will be Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet, a brilliant sound sculpture from 2001 which reworks 16th century English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis’s work Spem in Alium. The score, designed for a 40-part choir, was to mark the 40th birthday of Queen Elizabeth I.  Involving 40 separately recorded choir voices played back through 40 speakers, positioned specifically around the gallery, the 14-minute work creates a deeply moving effect on visitors. "Most people experience this piece now in their living rooms in front of only two speakers," says Janet Cardiff. "Even in a live concert the audience is separated from the individual voices. Only the performers are able to hear the person standing next to them singing a different harmony. I wanted to be able to climb inside the music."

Writing for the contemporary art web-forum Interface in 2012, Rebecca Travis describes the work as “a piece with huge presence that truly has to be experienced to be understood. What’s more,” she comments, “in a world of non-stop visual bombardment and worship of objects, it is incredible to see people stopped in their tracks simply by the power of sound.”

Featuring the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet initially toured through the UK. Editions are owned by the Tate Gallery (London), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), and the National Gallery of Canada, the latter which awarded it the Millennium Prize.

Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet features the voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. It was recorded and postproduced by SoundMoves, edited by George Bures Miller, and produced by Field Art Projects.

Click here for a review by Alison Gillmor, CBC, which also includes a clip of the music.


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