Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585) is in many respects an exceptional phenomenon among the great composers of his time. At 80, he reached an almost biblical age at the time. His work spans five politically extremely turbulent decades. Partly at close quarters, Tallis witnessed the reign of Henry VIII with the breakaway of the Anglican state church from the Catholic Church, the turmoil following his death and the fortification of the government of Elizabeth I. The serious ecclesiastical-political changes of the time had a strong impact on the composer, whose by far most important field of activity was church music, and partly explain his great stylistic versatility.

We know little of Tallis’ early life. He is first mentioned in writing in 1530 as the organist of a Benedictine monastery in Dover. From then on, he managed a gradual but steady rise until he was admitted to the royal court chapel in 1544. After several changes of throne and politics, he finally enjoyed the support of Elizabeth I, who in 1575, together with his former pupil William Byrd, granted him a monopoly on the publication of printed music, which the composers obviously used to publish their own works. When Tallis died in 1585, he was by far the longest-serving member of the court chapel and enjoyed general veneration among English musicians.

As of September 2021

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