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Thomas Tallis

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Thomas Tallis

Biography

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585) was an English composer.

Tallis occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music, and is considered one of England's greatest composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship.

Little is also known about Tallis's childhood and his significance with music at that age. However, there are suggestions that he was a Child (boy chorister) of the Chapel Royal, St. James' Palace, the same singing establishment which he later joined as a Gentleman. His first known musical appointment was in 1532, as organist of Dover Priory (now Dover College), a Benedictine priory in Kent. His career took him to London, then (probably in the autumn of 1538) to Waltham Abbey, a large Augustinian monastery in Essex which was dissolved in 1540. Tallis was paid off and also acquired a volume and preserved it; one of the treatises in it, by Leonel Power, prohibits consecutive unisons, fifths, and octaves.

Tallis's next post was at Canterbury Cathedral. He was next sent to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543 (which later became a Protestant establishment), where he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI (1547–1553), Queen Mary (1553–1558), and Queen Elizabeth I (1558 until Tallis died in 1585). Throughout his service to successive monarchs as organist and composer, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an "unreformed Roman Catholic." Tallis was capable of switching the style of his compositions to suit the different monarchs' vastly different demands. Among other important composers of the time, including Christopher Tye and Robert White, Tallis stood out. Walker observes, "He had more versatility of style than either, and his general handling of his material was more consistently easy and certain."

Tallis was also a teacher, not only of William Byrd, but also of Elway Bevin, an organist of Bristol Cathedral, and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

The earliest surviving works by Tallis, Salve intemerata virgo, Ave rosa sine spinis and Ave Dei patris filia, are devotional antiphons to the Virgin Mary, which were sung in the evening after the last service of the day and were cultivated in England until at least the early 1540s.

Toward the end of his life, Tallis resisted the musical development seen in his younger contemporaries such as William Byrd, who embraced compositional complexity and adopted texts built by combining disparate biblical extracts. Tallis's experiments during this time period were considered rather unusual. Tallis was content to draw his texts from the Liturgy and wrote for the worship services in the Chapel Royal. Tallis composed during a difficult period during the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism, and his music often displays characteristics of the turmoil.


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