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Thomas Tallis

English composer, b. about 1514; d. Nov. 23, 1585

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Tallis, THOMAS, English composer, b. about 1514; d. November 23, 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 “Spe aliam non habui”. Many of his masses are of great merit, especially his “Salve intemerata” and his macs for four voices. Owing to his religious views most of his compositions were not printed during his lifetime, but in recent years his MS. 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.



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