Tallis, Thomas

Thomas TallisThomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585) was an English composer. Tallis flourished as a church musician in 16th century Tudor England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England’s early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship. No contemporary portrait of Tallis survives: the earliest, painted by Gerard van der Gucht, dates from 150 years after Tallis died, and there is no certainty that it is a likeness.

Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born in the early 16th century, toward the close of the reign of Henry VII. Little is known about Tallis’s childhood and his significance with music at that age. However, there are suggestions that he was a child of the chapel royal St. James’s palace, the same singing establishment which he later went to as a man. His first known appointment to a musical position was as organist of Dover Priory in 1530–31, a Benedictine priory at Dover (now Dover College) in 1532. His career took him to London, then (probably in the autumn of 1538) to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham until the abbey was dissolved in 1540. Tallis acquired a volume at the dissolution of the monastery of Waltham Holy Cross and preserved it; one of the treatises in it was by Leonel Power, and the treatise itself prohibits consecutive unisons, fifths, and octaves.

Tallis’s next post was at Canterbury Cathedral. He was next sent to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543 (which later became a Protestant establishment), where he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI (1547–1553), Queen Mary (1553–1558), and Queen Elizabeth I (1558 until Tallis died in 1585). Throughout his service to successive monarchs as organist and composer, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.” Tallis was capable of switching the style of his compositions to suit the different monarchs’ vastly different demands. Among other important composers of the time, including Christopher Tye and Robert White, Tallis stood out. Walker observes, “He had more versatility of style than either, and his general handling of his material was more consistently easy and certain.” Tallis was also a teacher, not only of William Byrd, but also of Elway Bevin, an organist of Bristol Cathedral and gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

Tallis married around 1552; his wife, Joan, outlived him by four years. They apparently had no children. Late in his life he lived in Greenwich, possibly close to the royal palace: a local tradition holds that he lived on Stockwell Street.

 

Thomas Tallis – Wikipedia