“As he did live, so also did he die, in mild and quiet sort (O happy man!); To God full oft for mercy did he cry, wherefore he lives, let death do what it can.” from Thomas Tallis’ epitaph
Thomas Tallis lived through an unstable times. He saw reformation of the church. He saw four monarchs come and go. With each successive monarch, he witnessed the ‘one true faith’ fluctuate from Catholic to Protestant. He saw the succession of Henry VIII by Edward VI, who was followed Mary I, who was followed by Elizabeth I. Somehow evading persecution, Tallis stayed a Catholic, and became one of the chief composers of the Church of England. When writing for Catholics he did so in polyphonic Latin, and when for the Church of England in homophonic English.
Little is known of Tallis’ life and times, it is thought he was born in 1505. No record survives of his early life. His first known employment was as an organist at Dover Priory in 1532. Then in 1535 Dover priory was dissolved in the reformation. He then found employment in Waltham Abbey until it was again dissolved in 1540; it was the last English abbey to be dissolved. From here he moved to Saint Mary-at-Hill, London and to the Cathedral at Canterbury.
Later in life, Tallis became a Gentleman of Chapel Royal, where he may of played the organ or sung in the choir. It was there he met and began working with William Byrd, who was also to become renowned as on England’s finest renaissance composers. Elizabeth I granted a license to Tallis and Byrd which allowed them a monopoly on all printed music. They used this to print Cantiones sacrae, a collection 34 compositions, of which they wrote 17 each.
Tallis died peacefully at Greenwich in 1582.
Tallis lived through turbulent times, he never conformed but never seemed to rebel. He managed to live through many changes and still produce some of the most profound and moving pieces of music.
Dover- Kent.co.uk Thomas Tallis
elizabethan-era.org.uk Thomas Tallis
bbc.co.uk Thomas Tallis
Royal.gov.uk Chapel Royal