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Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis

The English composer and organist Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585) wrote anthems, services, and other music for the Anglican rite. He is considered the father of English cathedral music.

Evidence points to Leicestershire as the birthplace of Thomas Tallis. Of his youth, education, and musical training nothing certain is known. The earliest official record of his professional activity places him as organist at Dover Priory in 1532. From his Benedictine cloister he moved first to St. Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate about 1537 and then to the Augustinian Abbey of the Holy Cross at Waltham, where he served until its dissolution in 1540.

Under the adverse circumstances which ensued, Tallis next joined the musical establishment at Canterbury, leaving 2 years later to become a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He stayed in that position for the rest of his life. For nearly a half century he composed, played, sang, and taught music at the English court. During that period he witnessed the stylistic transition from medieval to tonal polyphony, which culminated in his own compositions and in those of his brilliant pupil William Byrd. Tallis died in Greenwich on Nov. 23, 1585, survived by his widow, Joan.

Tallis composed mainly sacred works, and his oeuvre may most conveniently be divided into two kinds: those with Latin texts and those with English texts. Of the former there are four Marian motets, the colossal 40-voiced Spem in alium, along with some two dozen other motets; several responsories, antiphons, and office hymns; two Lamentations and two Magnificats; and three Masses. His sacred compositions on English texts include a "Great" and a "Short" Service; two service movements; various preces, litanies, responses, and psalms; and, most important of all, 28 anthems, among which 10 are clearly derived from his own Latin motets. The few extant secular pieces actually do not compose a separate class, since most of these are somehow related to sacred compositions. The instrumental In nomine and Felix namque compositions were composed upon sacred cantus firmi, and at least one piece, "Fond youth is a bubble, " is a secular contrafactum.

Some of Tallis's Marian motets, especially Gaude Virgo, reflect the hocketed, elaborate polyphony of the previous century, while the seven-part Miserere, with six parts in canon, and the elaborate polyphonic imitation of Spem in alium demonstrate the "deep learning" for which both Tallis and Byrd were famous. The same quality, but in more modern guise, is found in some of the 17 motets which make up Tallis's contribution to the Cantiones sacrae, a collection he and Byrd published jointly in 1575 as the first edition appearing under their new royal license.

Clarity of harmony and word setting become more pronounced in Tallis's compositions on English texts. Here too the transition from ancient to modern style may be traced, as can be seen by comparing the retrospective "Dorian" Short Service with the brighter and more tuneful anthems "Heare the voyce and prayer" and "If ye love me."

Further Reading

Studies of Tallis include Leonard Ellinwood's "Tallis' Tunes and Tudor Psalmody" in Armen Carapetyan, ed., Musica Discipline, vol. 2 (1948), and Paul Doe, Tallis (1968). Additional information can be found in Ernest Walker, A History of Music in England (1907; 3d rev. ed. 1952); Morrison C. Boyd, Elizabethan Music and Musical Criticism (1940); and Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers (1970). □

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Tallis, Thomas

Tallis, Thomas (b c.1505; d Greenwich, 1585). Eng. composer and organist. Org., Waltham Abbey from c.1538 to 1540. Lay clerk, Canterbury Cath. 1540–2. Gentleman of the Chapel Royal 1540–85, serving under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I, and organist jointly with Byrd. In 1575 Elizabeth granted Tallis and Byrd letters patent giving them 21-year monopoly for printing mus. and mus. paper. In that year they pubd. 34 Cantiones sacrae in 5 and 6 parts (16 by Tallis and 18 by Byrd). Tallis wrote some pieces for kbd. and viols, but is mainly known for church mus. of great contrapuntal ingenuity and technical dexterity. In this respect his masterpiece is perhaps the 40-part motet Spem in alium, in the opening section of which 20 vv. enter successively with theme in imitation. The other 20 then enter with new material and, after passages for varying numbers of vv., all 40 combine for the ending. Of special interest, too, is the use of modulation in the 2 Lamentations from near the end of his long career. The tune known as Tallis's Canon was one of 9 which Tallis comp. for Archbishop Parker's metrical Whole Psalter, 1567, where it is attached to Ps. 67. In 1732 it was linked with Bishop Ken's Winchester evening hymn, ‘Glory to thee, my God, this night’. Another tune written for this psalter was that used by Vaughan Williams in 1910 as the basis of his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for str.

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"Tallis, Thomas." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Tallis, Thomas

Tallis, Thomas (c.1505–85). English composer and organist, whose early career included short periods at Dover priory, St Mary-at-Hill in London, Waltham abbey in Essex, and Canterbury cathedral. By 1545 he was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he remained, also acting as organist, until his death. Thus, unusually, Tallis served four monarchs, something apparent in his music. His early works for Henry VIII involve traditional catholic polyphony, whereas the six years of Anglican liturgy under Edward VI required new styles, reflecting Cranmer's desire for clear syllabic word-setting as in the simple four-part ‘If ye love me’. The return to catholicism under Queen Mary saw some of Tallis's most elaborate music, probably including the massive six-part antiphon ‘Gaude gloriosa Dei mater’. Finally, Elizabeth's catholic sympathies, despite her official protestant religion, allowed Tallis to publish his Cantiones sacrae jointly with Byrd (1575) and to write some of his finest Latin church music, including the two darkly emotional sets of Lamentations and his technical masterpiece, the 40-part motet ‘Spem in alium’. A small amount of consort and keyboard music also survives.

Eric Cross

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"Tallis, Thomas." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Tallis, Thomas

Tallis, Thomas (1505–85) English composer of church music. In 1575, Elizabeth I granted Tallis and William Byrd a licence to print and publish music; in that year they published the Cantiones Sacrae, a set of motets. His church music includes a setting of Lamentations, two masses, and a number of anthems. His contrapuntal skill shows in his 40-part motet, Spem in alium (c.1573).

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Tallis, Thomas

Tallis, Thomas (c.1505–85). Church composer, often associated with Byrd for their formative effect on composition. He was organist of Waltham Abbey until its dissolution in 1540. Subsequently he joined Byrd as organist at the Chapel Royal. His skill is shown at its height in a motet, Spem in alium nunquam habui.

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"Tallis, Thomas." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Comp. by Vaughan Williams for double str. orch. and str. qt., f.p. Gloucester 1910, London 1913 (rev.). Further rev. 1919. Tallis's theme is No.3 (‘Why fumeth in fight’) of 9 psalm tunes comp. 1567 for Archbishop Parker's Psalter.

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Tallis, Thomas

Thomas Tallis, c.1510–1585, English composer, who served the royal household, from c.1537 to his death, as organist. He wrote principally Latin motets (of which Spem in alium, in 40 parts, was an unsurpassed technical feat), hymn tunes, services, and anthems.

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"Tallis, Thomas." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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