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Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis, 18th-century engraving; a posthumous, invented portrait[1] by Gerard Vandergucht

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585 by the Julian calendar still then in use in England)[2] was an English composer who occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music, and is considered one of England's greatest composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship.[3] No contemporary portrait of Tallis survives: that painted by Gerard Vandergucht (illustration), dates from 150 years after Tallis died, and there is no reason to suppose that it is a likeness. In a rare existing copy of his black letter signature, the composer spelled his last name "Tallys."[4]


  • Life 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Work with William Byrd 1.2
    • Death 1.3
  • Liturgical calendar 2
  • Works 3
    • Early works 3.1
    • Later works 3.2
  • Fictional portrayals 4
  • Recordings 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early years

Little is known about Tallis' early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born in the early 16th century, toward the close of the reign of Dover Priory (now Dover College), a Benedictine priory in Kent.[6] His career took him to London, then (probably in the autumn of 1538) to Waltham Abbey, a large Augustinian monastery in Essex which was dissolved in 1540. Tallis was paid off and also acquired a volume and preserved it; one of the treatises in it, by Leonel Power, prohibits consecutive unisons, fifths, and octaves.[7]

Tallis' next post was at Bristol Cathedral, and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.[14]

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.[15]

Work with William Byrd

Queen Mary granted Tallis a lease on a manor in Kent that provided a comfortable annual income.[16] In 1575, Queen Elizabeth granted to him and William Byrd a 21-year monopoly for polyphonic music[17] and a patent to print and publish music, which was one of the first arrangements of that type in the country.[18] Tallis's monopoly covered 'set songe or songes in parts', and he composed in English, Latin, French, Italian, or other tongues as long as they served for music in the Church or chamber.[19] Tallis had exclusive rights to print any music, in any language. He and William Byrd were the only ones allowed to use the paper that was used in printing music. Tallis and Byrd used their monopoly to produce Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur in 1575, but the collection did not sell well and they appealed to Queen Elizabeth for her support.[20] People were naturally wary of their new publications, and it certainly did not help their case that they were both avowed Roman Catholics.[21] Not only that, they were strictly forbidden to sell any imported music. "We straightly by the same be brought out of any forren Realmes...any songe or songes made and printed in any foreen countrie." Also, Byrd and Tallis were not given "the rights to music type fonts, printing patents were not under their command, and they didn't actually own a printing press."[22]

Tallis retained respect during a succession of opposing religious movements and deflected the violence that claimed Catholics and Protestants alike.[23]


Thomas Tallis died peacefully in his house in Greenwich in November 1585; most historians agree that he died on the 23rd.[24] He was buried in the chancel of the parish of St Alfege Church in Greenwich. To this day, the exact location in St Alfege Church of Tallis's remains is unknown. His remains may have been discarded by labourers between 1712 and 1714, when the church was rebuilt. Nothing remains of Tallis's original memorial in the church. Strype said in 1720 to have found a brass plate with an engraving on it, which read:

“Entered here doth ly a worthy wyght,
Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell:
His name to shew, was THOMAS TALLYS hyght,
In honest virtuous lyff he dyd excell.

“He serv’d long tyme in chappel with grete prayse
Fower sovereygnes reygnes (a thing not often seen);
I meane Kyng Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth oure Quene.

“He mary’d was, though children he had none,
And lyv’d in love full thre and thirty yeres
Wyth loyal spowse, whose name yclypt was JONE,
Who here entomb’d him company now beares.

“As he dyd lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet sort (O happy man!)
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let deth do what he can.”[25]

Byrd wrote the musical elegy Ye Sacred Muses on Tallis's death. (The name "Tallis" is derived from the French word "taillis," which means a "thicket.")

Liturgical calendar

Tallis is honoured together with William Byrd and John Merbecke with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 21 November.


See List of compositions by Thomas Tallis

Early works

The earliest surviving works by Tallis, Salve intemerata virgo, Ave rosa sine spinis and Ave Dei patris filia are devotional antiphons to the Virgin Mary, which were sung in the evening after the last service of the day and were cultivated in England until at least the early 1540s. Henry VIII's break with Roman Catholicism in 1534 and the rise of Thomas Cranmer noticeably influenced the style of music written. Cranmer recommended a syllabic style of music (which is a setting of text where each syllable is sung to one pitch), as his instructions for the setting of the 1544 English Litany make clear.[26] As a result, the writing of Tallis and his contemporaries became less florid. Tallis's Mass for Four Voices is marked with tendencies toward a syllabic and chordal (consisting of or emphasising chords) style and a diminished use of melisma. Tallis provides a rhythmic variety and differentiation of moods depending on the meaning of his texts.[27] Tallis helped found a relationship that was specific to the combining of words and music.[28]

The reformed Anglican liturgy was inaugurated during the short reign of Edward VI (1547–53),[29] and Tallis was one of the first church musicians to write anthems set to English words, although Latin continued to be used alongside the vernacular.[30] The Catholic Mary Tudor set about undoing some of the religious reforms of the preceding decades. Following her accession in 1553, the Roman Rite was restored and compositional style reverted to the elaborate writing prevalent early in the century.[31] Two of Tallis's major works, Gaude gloriosa Dei Mater[32] and the Christmas Mass Puer natus est nobis are believed to be from this period. Puer natus est nobis, based on the Introit for the third Mass for Christmas Day, was perhaps sung at Christmas 1554 when Mary believed she was expecting a male heir.[33] As was the prevailing practice, these pieces were intended to exalt the image of the Queen as well as to praise the Mother of God.[34]

Some of Tallis's works were compiled and printed in the Mulliner Book by Thomas Mulliner before Queen Elizabeth's reign, and may have been used by the Queen herself when she was younger. Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister in 1558, and the Act of Uniformity, actually passed in the following year, abolished the Roman Liturgy[35] and firmly established the Book of Common Prayer.[36] Composers resumed writing English anthems, although the practice of setting Latin texts continued among composers employed by Elizabeth's Chapel Royal.

The religious authorities in the beginning of Elizabeth's reign inclined towards

  • BBC Radio 3 Discovering Music program on Spem in Alium and related works
  • Listen to free recordings of Latin church music and English church music from Umeå Akademiska Kör
  • The Mutopia Project has compositions by Thomas Tallis
  • Free access to high-resolution images of manuscripts containing works by Tallis from Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music
  • Free scores by Thomas Tallis in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  • Free scores by Thomas Tallis at the International Music Score Library Project
  • In Pace in Idipsum, edited by
  • Image of Tallis's signature in a book from one of his early places of employment, Waltham Abbey.

External links

  • Cole, Suzanne. Thomas Tallis and his Music in Victorian England. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2008.
  • Doe, Paul and Allinson, David : Thomas Tallis, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 5 May 2007), (subscription access)
  • Farrell, Joseph. Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times. New York Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Gatens. Tallis: Works, all. American Record Guide 68.3 (May–June 2005): 181.
  • Holman, Peter. Dowland: Lachrimae (1604); Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Lord, Suzanne.; Brinkman, David. Music from the Age of Shakespeare: A Cultural History. Westport, Conn Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.
  • Manderson, Desmond. Songs Without Music: Aesthetic Dimensions of Law and Justice. University of California Press, 2000.
  • Milsom, John. 'Tallis, Thomas' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Accessed 14 April 2015), (subscription access)
  • Phillips, Peter. Sign of Contradiction: Tallis at 500. Musical Times 146 (Summer 2005): 7–15.
  • Shrock, Dennis. Choral Repertoire. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Steinberg, Michael. Choral Masterworks: A Listener’s Guide. New York Oxford Press, 2005.
  • St. James Palace; Rimbault, Edward F. The Old Cheque-Book. Chapel Royal. Westminster: J.B, Nichols and Sons.
  • Thomas, Jane Resh. Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I. New York Houghton-Muffin Trade and Reference, 1998.
  • Walker, Ernest. A History of Music in England. 3rd ed., rev. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952


  1. ^
  2. ^ 3 December 1585 by the Gregorian calendar
  3. ^ Farrell, J: Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times, page 125. New York Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  4. ^ Cole, Suzanne. Thomas Tallis and his Music in Victorian England, page 62. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2008.
  5. ^ Walker, Ernest. A History of Music in England, page 48 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952
  6. ^ Lord, Suzanne.; Brinkman, David. Music from the Age of Shakespeare: A Cultural History, page 197. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.
  7. ^ Walker 19–20
  8. ^ Farrell 125
  9. ^ Holman, Peter. Dowland: Lachrimae (1604), page 201. Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  10. ^ Thomas, Jane Resh. Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I, page 136. New York Houghton-Muffin Trade and Reference, 1998.
  11. ^ Peter Ackroyd Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination ( New York: First Anchor Books, 2004), 184
  12. ^ Phillips, Peter. “Sign of Contradiction: Tallis at 500”, page 8. Musical Times 146 (Summer 2005): 7–15.
  13. ^ Walker 58–59
  14. ^ Walker 75
  15. ^ Paul Doe/David Allinson, Grove online
  16. ^ Cole 93
  17. ^ Holman 1
  18. ^ Lord 69
  19. ^ Holman 1
  20. ^ Holman 1
  21. ^ Lord 69
  22. ^ Lord 70
  23. ^ Gatens. "Tallis: Works, all." American Record Guide 68.3 (May–June 2005): 181.
  24. ^ Rimbault, Edward F. (1872). The Old Cheque-Book or Book of Remembrance of The Chapel Royal from 1561 to 1744, page 192. J.B, Nichols and Sons.
  25. ^ Rimbault 192–193
  26. ^ Willis, Jonathan P. Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England, page 52. Ashgate, 2010.
  27. ^ Manderson, Desmond. Songs Without Music: Aesthetic Dimensions of Law and Justice, page 86. University of California Press, 2000.
  28. ^ Phillips 11
  29. ^ Lord 75
  30. ^ Lord 200
  31. ^ Shrock 148
  32. ^ Gaude gloriosa Dei Mater (Thomas Tallis) at
  33. ^ Milsom 'Tallis, Thomas' Oxford DNB (Accessed 14 April 2015)
  34. ^ Shrock 148
  35. ^ Farrell 125
  36. ^ Thomas 89
  37. ^ Willis, 57.
  38. ^ Lord 86
  39. ^ Steinberg, Michael. Choral Masterworks: A Listener’s Guide, page 291 New York Oxford Press, 2005.
  40. ^ "Tallis's Canon",
  41. ^ Willis, 57.
  42. ^ Milsom, John. 'Sacred Songs in the Chamber' in John Morehen (ed.) English Choral Practice, 1400-1650, page 163. CUP, 1995.
  43. ^ Cole 93
  44. ^ Phillips 11
  45. ^ Phillips 13
  46. ^ Phillips 9
  47. ^ Phillips 11
  48. ^ Farrell 125
  49. ^ Farrell 125
  50. ^ Gatens 181


See also

  • Ceremony & Devotion Harry Christophers, The Sixteen (CORO)
  • Tallis, Byrd and Guerrero, The Flowering of Genius The Sixteen (CORO16001)
  • William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, In Chains of Gold. Dunedin Consort, DCD34008
  • Thomas TallisHerald AV Publications – HAVPCD305:


A fictionalised Thomas Tallis was portrayed by Joe Van Moyland in 2007 on the Showtime television series The Tudors, loosely based upon the early reign of Henry VIII.

Fictional portrayals

Toward the end of his life, Tallis resisted the musical development seen in his younger contemporaries such as William Byrd, who embraced compositional complexity and adopted texts built by combining disparate biblical extracts.[46] Tallis's experiments during this time period were considered rather unusual.[47] Tallis was content to draw his texts from the Liturgy[48] and wrote for the worship services in the Chapel Royal.[49] Tallis composed during a difficult period during the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism, and his music often displays characteristics of the turmoil.[50]

Later works

[45] This is partly because we do not have all of his works from previous periods; eleven of eighteen Latin-texted pieces by Tallis from Elizabeth's reign were published, "which ensured their survival in a way not available to the earlier material."[44]

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