Tallis

Born: 1505

Died: 1585

Thomas Tallis

Tallis can fairly be said to be the first important English composer, though little is known of his life. Most of Tallis’s music is, not surprisingly, for the church and his historic importance is in being one of the first composers to write for the Anglican service, the composer who bridged the transition from the Roman Rite.

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Top 10 Tallis recordings

 

Tallis can fairly be said to be the first important English composer, though little is known of his life. He held a succession of posts as organist, most notably at Waltham Abbey in Essex (until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540) before joining the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal from about 1543. He remained there for the rest of his life, serving under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. In 1572 William Byrd (40 years his junior) joined Tallis in the Chapel Royal, forming one of music’s earliest great partnerships: they became joint organists of the Chapel and, in 1575, were granted the sole right to print music in England. Their first publication was a joint venture – a volume of Cantiones sacrae to which each contributed 17 motets. Tallis spent the last years of his life in Greenwich, described in 1577 as ‘verie aged’. His epitaph reads: ‘As he did live, so also did he die, in mild and happy sort (O! happy man)’.

Most of Tallis’s music is, not surprisingly, for the church and his historic importance is in being one of the first composers to write for the Anglican service, the composer who bridged the transition from the Roman Rite. Why important? Because the English church-music tradition is among the richest in music history. Though most of the texts Tallis chose to set are in Latin, as a Catholic one may guess that after Queen Mary’s reign pragmatism took precedence over belief as he adapted to Thomas Cranmer’s English and his requirement of a ‘playn and distincte note for every sillable’. 

Tallis composed in the whole range of styles and forms then in use. We can marvel at his handling of choral sonority and his technical assurance of grand polyphonic textures, as well as in the simplicity of four-part hymn tunes. ‘Tallis in D’ is still in use today (No 78 in Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised). This first appeared in Archbishop Parker’s Psalter of 1567 in which can also be found the tune on which Vaughan Williams based his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

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