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Musical Musings: Composers

Thomas Tallis

Transcribed by Terrence J. Boyle
Dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.

English composer, born about 1514; died 23 November, 1585. He was a chorister at Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, becoming organist of Waltham Abbey in 1536. In 1540 his post was forfeited on the dissolution of the abbey, and in 1542 he appears as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, continuing as such under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth. Owing to his extraordinary eminence as a musician, he retained his Chapel Royal appointment unmolested, although he steadfastly clung to the old Faith amid all the changes from 1545 to 1584. Like Byrd he was an avowed Catholic, and even Elizabeth herself connived at the retention of Tallis in his court appointments. In conjunction with Byrd he obtained the valuable monopoly of printing music and ruled music paper from 1575 till his death, and he was also given lands valued at 30 pounds sterling per year by Elizabeth, as well as various tithes. He was buried in Greenwich parish church. The metrical epitaph which was placed over his tomb was subsequently set to music by De Cooke. His fecundity as a composer was enormous, and he wrote several tours de force including a forty-part motet Spem in aliam nunquam habui. Many of his masses are of great merit, especially his Salve intemerata and his mass for four voices. Owing to his religious views most of his compositions were not printed during his lifetime, but in recent years his manuscript work has received much attention from skilled editors. His Dorian service and five-part Litany are gems of musical art, but are not to be compared to his exquisite Latin motets, and above all his glorious Lamentations. Some charming motets are included in his printed Cantiones (1576), while many of his Latin settings are tinkered to suit Anglican tastes, e.g. his O sacrum convivium adapted to "I call and cry" by Barnard. He essayed all the existing art-forms, including Fancies for the Organ and some virginal pieces. Unfortunately, he has been too frequently judged by his English services, but these were merely written ex officio and do not reveal the genuine Tallis, whose best contrapuntal work may be placed almost on a par with that of Palestrina.

EITNER, Quellen Lexikon (Leipzig, 1900-04); GROVE, Dict. of Music and Musicians, V (London, 1904-10); TERRY, Catholic Church Music (London, 1907); WALKER, A History of Music in England (Oxford, 1907).

Transcribed by Terrence J. Boyle
Dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.

See New Advent Catholic Website

See also Salvator mundi (Tallis / Kenney) [CNP Catalog #7100]

 Back to Composers Index

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