The Metropolitan Museum of Art LogoEmail

Type the CAPTCHA word:

Experiencing The Forty Part Motet

Andrew Winslow, Senior Departmental Technician, The Cloisters museum and gardens

Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet

«Janet Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet, currently on view through December 8, boasts the distinction of being the first exhibition of contemporary art in the seventy-five-year history of The Cloisters museum and gardens. A sound installation consisting of forty speakers mounted on tall stands and arranged in a large oval, Cardiff's work seems to have found its ideal home in the Fuentidueña Chapel—dominated by the monumental twelfth-century apse brought to The Cloisters from the church of San Martín in Fuentidueña, Spain.»

As the piece begins, you hear a series of seemingly isolated sounds—a solitary cough to your right, someone humming a few notes across the room—and the whole space gradually comes alive around you as the members of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir warm up, chit-chat, and compare notes on Tudor composer Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium. After a few minutes a choirmaster can be heard saying, "What we'll do is we'll go through it one more time—really go for it—and then we'll take a little breather . . ." Following a brief pause, a single voice begins to sing, and soon the music is swelling and moving throughout the space.

Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet

Visitors to The Cloisters have often noted that its art, architecture, and gardens can have a transporting effect, but when you are in the center of the Fuentidueña Chapel and move among the forty speakers, that effect is amplified—quite literally—to an extraordinary degree. Hearing those voices swirling around you is quite powerful in itself, but being able to walk up to a speaker and intimately hear the sharp intakes of breath, the hisses and pops a mouth makes as it forms sound, the qualities and imperfections of an individual voice, makes this exhibition a truly unique experience—one that can't be replicated in a church or concert-hall performance.

I have witnessed visitors clutching their chests, wiping away tears, or just smiling wistfully up at the frescoes as they become immersed in the moment, and I encourage all fans of art and music alike to head to The Cloisters and experience this extraordinary installation for yourselves.

Images and video: Wilson Santiago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


  • Bobbie Leigh says:

    I am a member and would like to buy tickets to the Cardiff concerts... where do you list the times and dates and how does one get tickets. Thanks, Bobbie Liegh

    Posted: October 18, 2013, 9:54 a.m.

  • Eileen Willis says:

    Thanks for your question, Bobbie. The Forty Part Motet is a special exhibition that is happening every day at The Cloisters through December 8. There are no concert times/dates. More information about the exhibition is listed here: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/janet-cardiff/. Thank you for your Membership!

    Posted: October 19, 2013, 3:23 p.m.

  • Michele McTernan says:

    This was just wonderful, and well worth revisiting. However; I hope the guards will consider asking patrons to keep a path clear on both sides of the apse steps, so listeners can hear each element of this sound painting. As a Christian, I understand the powerful emotional reaction that led to some visitors to choose to lie on the floor of the apse with their feet on the steps. It’s like prayer on steroids, so perhaps they didn’t realize that they were taking up a lot of space and blocking access to a portion of the installation. The lady who fell asleep lying on the floor certainly wouldn’t have noticed that she presented an obstacle for those who sought access to that side of the apse. The performance is relatively long, though, so it doesn’t seem fair for a few people to ‘bogie’ the experience ~ :).

    Posted: October 27, 2013, 10:31 a.m.

  • Nancy Gentry says:

    I experienced this in Cleveland this past June and couldn't listen long enough. It is hard to describe the emotions this exhibit evokes. I wept and can only imagine that this is what heaven will sound like. I bought the cd of the Tallis Scholars, which is wonderful too but nothing compares to hearing the audio exhibit. I was hoping The Cloisters would extend it and I would get to hear it again.

    Posted: December 5, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

  • Sherry Martin says:

    Does anyone know where the exhibit had gone since it left New York in December? I would love to bring some members of my chorus to enjoy this wonderful experience. I would have loved to see the Fuentidueña Chapel, but as we are in Massachusetts, perhaps we could even make it to the exhibit in Ottawa.

    If anyone knows where else we might go to see them, please let me know here or at the email address above. Many, many thanks! ~Sherry

    Posted: January 6, 2014, 11:52 a.m.

  • Alan Lieberman says:

    I too, experienced this performance along with my daughter while visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art last summer. It was awesome. I would like to see and hear this again. Please send me an email regarding the 2014 schedule. Any chance it can come to Columbus, OH?

    Posted: February 21, 2014, 5:26 p.m.

  • N.Rights says:

    Oh, Cloisters, please bring this back again.

    Posted: March 28, 2014, 12:22 p.m.

  • amelia says:

    hello my name is Amelia and I'm wondering where I can get notes on the exhibition but the notes that the curator has made such as a press release or catalogue release as I'm studying curatoring this semester in my course at university...I'm writing a short 1000-1500 review on the exhibition.

    many thanks and my email is ameliajstewart24@gmail.com

    Posted: April 1, 2014, 2:47 a.m.

  • Annie Dolmatch says:

    Amelia, thanks for your question. You can find more information about the exhibition here: http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/now-at-the-met/features/2013/forty-part-motet/. The press release may also be of help: http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/press-room/exhibitions/2013/janet-cardiff/. Thanks again!

    Posted: April 2, 2014, 12:25 p.m.

  • Colin Streeter says:

    Christmastime 2014. It would be wonderful if the Cloisters could restage the motet as a Christmas tradition.

    Posted: December 16, 2014, 4:09 p.m.

Post a Comment

We welcome your participation! Please note that while lively discussion and strong opinions are encouraged, the Museum reserves the right to delete comments that it deems inappropriate for any reason. Comments are moderated and publication times may vary.

*Required fields

Follow This Blog: Subscribe

About the Author

Andrew Winslow is the senior departmental technician at The Cloisters Museum and Gardens.

About this Blog

Now at the Met offers in-depth articles and multimedia features about the Museum's current exhibitions, events, research, announcements, behind-the-scenes activities, and more.