Thomas Tallis

1505-1585

Thomas Tallis was one of the most powerful and important composers of the Renaissance Period in England.

Early Life

Very little is known about Tallis' early life. We're not even sure if he was actually born in 1505 and we don't know anything about his childhood, parents or early education. What we do know is that he played organ and that he was able to read and write in English, Latin, French and Italian. We also know that he got married in 1552 and that his wife's name was Joan. There is no record of any children.

Even the only picture we have of Tallis was painted about 150 years after he died. This means that the picture on this page may not look like Tallis at all!

Musical Career

During Tallis' life there were four monarchs (kings or queens) who ruled over England. Henry VIII (the eighth)Edward VI (the sixth) Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I (the first). Each one of those rulers had different beliefs about England and the Church and because of that they each wanted different music. Some rulers wanted music in English, some wanted music in Latin. Thomas Tallis was able to satisfy everyone and he was able to keep his job at the Chapel Royal (Royal Church) for most of his adult life.

Tallis was an organist and composer. He was always trying out new ideas from Europe and changed the style of his music. Sometimes it had many voices doing different things (polyphony), sometime all the voices sang together (homophony). Sometimes he wrote in English, sometimes in Latin. He has famous pieces in both languages. His most famous pieces are If Ye Love Me which is still sung in Anglian churches today, God Grant With Grace which is also known as the Tallis Canon, and Spem in Alium - a piece for 40 voices!

In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I gave Tallis and another composer, William Byrd, a license which meant they were the only people allowed to print and publish music in England (music printing was a very new invention at the time). That gave them a lot of power and money. Tallis owned a house in Greenwich where he died in 1585.

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