Thomas Tallis

English composer and organist (Kent, 1505 – Greenwich, 1585)

Thomas Tallis is an essential composer of the English Renaissance, who was particularly important in constituting church music repertoire.

Thomas Tallis began as an organist in the Benedictine priory of Dover, a small monastery and went on occupying the same position in the abbey of Waltham in 1536. After short time in Canterbury Cathedral, he made his way up in 1542 and became organist for the court of the royal chapel, a privileged position at this time.

From then on, Thomas Tallis composed for Henri VIII, Edward VI, Marie Tudor and Elizabeth the 1st. From 1572, he was joined by William Byrd, believed to be his pupil, at the Royal Chapel. Both composers being Catholic, they were then granted the right to print and publish music, a privilege at that time. Tallis wrote in many different languages, including Latin, French, Italian or English, depending on the political and religious context - with the rise of Anglicanism.

Tallis' work consists of masses, motets, Magnificat, and lamentations of four up to forty voices. His most famous motet, Spem in alium, is composed for forty different and independent voices, demonstrating an extremely thorough knowledge of the counterpoint technique.

Five landmark dates in the life of Tallis:

1530: Organist at the Benedictine priory in Dover.
1536: Organist at the abbey of Waltham.
1542: Gentleman of the Royal Chapel of Englan
1575: With William Byrd, he obtained the exclusive privilege of importing, printing, publishing and selling music.
1575: He wrote 16 of the 36 pieces constituting the first book of Cantiones Sacrae by William Byrd.

Five key works by Tallis:

Lamentations of Prophet Jeremiah the, for 5-part chorus

"Puer natus is Nobis" Mass

Music for the Divine Office: hymns (5 voices), responses (4 to 7 voices) and magnificat (4 voices)

"O nata lux de lumine", motet

"Spem in alium", motet for 40 voices