Thomas Tallis

thomas-tallis-largeThomas Tallis is known as the father of English cathedral music.

Thomas Tallis was born January 30, 1505 in Kent.

He died November 23, 1585 in Greenwich and was buried in the chancel of the parish church, where in a stone before the altar rails a brass plate was inserted with an epitaph in verse engraved upon it. When the church was taken down for rebuilding soon after 1710 the inscription was removed, and Tallis remained without any tombstone memorial for around 150 years, when a copy of the epitaph (which had been preserved by Strype in his edition of Stow’s Survey of London, 1720, and reprinted by Hawkins, Burney, and others) was placed in the present church. The epitaph was set to music as a 4 part glee by Dr. Cooke, which was printed in Warren’s collections.

It is mentioned that he received his early education in the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral under Thomas Mulliner, and then was moved to the choir of the Chapel Royal. There is no significant evidence to support this. The words ‘Child there’ which occur at the end of the entry in the Chequebook of the Chapel Royal recording his death and the appointment of his successor, and which have been relied upon as proving the latter statement, are ambiguous, as they are applicable equally to his successor, Henry Eveseed, and to him. It is however highly probably that he was a chorister in one or other of the metropolitan choirs.

He became organist of Waltham Abbey, which appointment he retained until the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, when he was dismissed with 20s for wages and 20s for reward. (This fact was made public by Dr. W. H. Cummings in Musical Times, Nov. 1876.)

It is probably that soon after that event he obtained the place of a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

His celebrated Preces, Responses and Litany, and his Service in the Dorian mode, were mot probably composed soon after the second Prayer Book of Edward VI was issued in 1552.

In 1560, five anthems by Tallis were included in John Day’s ‘Certaine Notes,’ etc.; two of them were reprinted in Day’s ‘Whole Book of Psalms,’ 1563, and all of them in ‘Morning and evening Prayer,’ 1565.

Eight tunes were written for Archbishop Parker’s ‘Psalter,’ 1567, and another, the famous tun e for ‘Veni Creator,’ is of the same period.

On January 21, 1575-76, he and William Byrd obtained Letters Patent giving them the exclusive right of printing music and ruled music paper for twenty on eyears; the first of the kind.

The first work printed under the patent was the patentees’ own ‘Cantiones quae ab argumento Sacrae vocantur, quinque et sex partium’ containing thirty four motets, sixteen by Tallis, and eighteen by Byrd, and dated 1575.

In the paten the grantees are called ‘Gent. Of our Chappell’ only, but on the title page of the ‘Cantiones’ they describe themselves as ‘Serenissimae Reginae Maiestati a priuato Sacello generosis, et Organists.’

The work is a beautiful specimen of early English musical typography. It contains not only three laudatory poems, one ‘De Anglorum Musica’ (unsigned), and two others by ‘Richardus Mulcasterus’ and ‘Ferdinandus Richardonus,’ but also at the end a short poem by Tallis and Byrd themselves:

Autores Cantionum Ad Lectorum

Has tibi primitias sic commendamus, amice
Lecor, ut infantem depositura suum
Nutrici fidel vix firma puerperal credit,
Queis pro lacte tune gratea frontis erit
Hac etenim fretae, magnum promittere messem
Audebunt, cassae, falcis honore cadent.

Tallis had enjoyed for twenty one years from 1557 a lease of the manor of Minster in Thanet, holding it jointly with Richard Bowyer, and the monopoly above referred to, which he shared with Byrd, was represented by them in 1577 as having left them out of pocket.

Queen Elizabeth then granted them lands to the value of 30 pounds a year without fine, in possession or reversion. They also received various tithes in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Essex, and Somerset.

Tallis, like the Vicar of Bray, conformed, outwardly at least, to the various forms of worship which successive rulers imposed, and so retained his position in the Chapel Royal uninterruptedly from his appointment in the reign of Henry VIII, until his death in that of Elizabeth.

From the circumstance of his having selected his Latin motets for publication so lately as 1575 it may be inferred that his own inclination was toward the older faith.

Thomas Tallis Music

List of Some Printed Works by Tallis

  • Hear the voice, and prayer
  • O Lord, in thee is all my trust
  • Remember not, O Lord God
  • If ye love me
  • I give you a new Commandment
  • Man blest no doubt
  • Let God arise
  • Why fumeth in fight
  • O come in one
  • Even like the hunted hind
  • Expend, O Lord
  • Why bragst in malice high
  • God grant with grace
  • Come, Holy Ghost
  • Salvator mundi
  • Abeterge Conine
  • In manua tune
  • Mibi autem nimis
  • O nata lux
  • O sacrum convivium
  • Derelinquit imrine
  • Sablathem dum transisset
  • Virtus, honor et potestae
  • Illne dum pergunt
  • Procul recedant
  • Salvator Mundi
  • Facti sunt Nazerei
  • In jejunio et Fletu
  • Susipe quaeso
  • Si Enim
  • Miserere nostril
  • Litany, Preces, and Responses