Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thomas Tallis

The English composer Thomas Tallis died on November 23, 1585. He composed and performed music at Court as a Gentleman of the College Royal for four of the five Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. He adapted his style to the desires of each monarch, but remained a Catholic. Before serving at Court he had been a musician at Dover Priory and Holy Cross Abbey (the second until the Dissolution of the Monasteries) and at Canterbury Catheral.

Both Mary I and Elizabeth I honored Tallis with very profitable arrangements: Mary granted him lease on a manor in Kent, while Elizabeth gave him (and William Byrd) monopolies and printing patents.

Gramophone magazine published a CD interview between Catherine Bott and Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars covering his career noting that he may never have heard an adequate performance of one of his most famous works during his lifetime: Spem in alium. There probably weren't the musical forces available to deliver eight five-voice choirs; I recall that Phillips said instruments might have provided some of the voices for this motet.


  1. It's remarkable that he managed to remain a Catholic through all those changes of regime, yet nonetheless enjoyed such favor even from Elizabeth.

  2. Well he did follow the musical styles each change in religion demanded, so his talent and effort to serve were evident. He must also have taken the oaths Elizabeth required.