Thomas Tallis

By: Sara Ghiorzi


  • With the evidence they have, experts believe that Tallis was born sometime around the year 1515 in Leicestershire, England.
  • Thomas spent most of his life in London, England. More specifically, he spent nearly half a century at the Hampton Court Palace, as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal.
  • Experts have no certain evidence of Tallis’s education, youth, or training. From what they have gathered, the earliest official record of his professional activity shows that he was an organist at Dover Priory in 1532.
  • Around the year 1537, Thomas moved to St. Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate, after leaving his Benedictine cloister. He then moved to the Augustinian Abbey of the Holy Cross at Waltham, where he served until 1540. Next, he became a part of the musical institution at Canterbury for two years, and then joined the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal. This was a position he held for the rest of his life. It was here that, for close to half a century, Tallis composed, sang, played, and taught music. During that time, the stylistic transition from medieval to tonal polyphony was made, and this resulted in not only many of his creations, but also the works of his student, William Byrd.
  • Thomas wrote anthems, services, and other music for the Anglican rite. He composed many sacred works and oeuvres and is, in fact, known as the father of English cathedral music. Three examples of his work would include “If ye love me,” “Gaude Virgo,” and “Hear the voice and prayer of Thy Servants.”
  • Research suggests that Anthony Roper was a patron for Tallis. In fact, evidence shows that, in the will of Joan Tallis (Thomas’s wife,) the first bequest is for this man. It reads, “to Anthony Roper esquier one guilte bowl with the cover there unto belonging in respect of his good favours showed to my late husband and me.” Because she used the term “good favours,” the conclusion can be made that the two men were connected through a patron/client relationship.
  • Tallis compositions can be linked with secularism simply for the reason that they are anything but. He composed mainly sacred works. In fact, his few existing secular pieces cannot make up a different class, because most of them are somehow related to sacred compositions. So, the connection is made because his creations were known as being the total opposite of secular. Thomas wrote anthems, services, and other music for the Anglican rite. He composed many sacred works and oeuvres and is known as the father of English cathedral music. Idealism stresses things such as “idea over observation” and the arts of simplicity and clarity. This can be linked to Thomas’s works because clarity of harmony and word setting become more noticeable (compared to that before his time) in Tallis's creations on English texts. Through his compositions, a progression from ancient to modern style can be seen, as his anthems were much brighter and tuneful.

Create Recordings

'If Ye Love Me'_Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)_ Performed by UCT Choir by Create Recordings
This audio clip from features a performance of Tallis's "If ye love me" by the UCT Choir.

Les Canards Chantants

Salve Intemerata Virgo (excerpt), Thomas Tallis, 1520s by Les Canards Chantants
This clip from Soundcloud is a wonderful rendition of "Gaude Virgo" performed by the Les Canards Cantants.

Byrd Ensemble

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - Hear the voice and prayer (LIVE) by Byrd Ensemble
This last clip from Soundcloud is an interpretation of Tallis's "Hear the Voice and Prayer of Thy Servants" performed by the Byrd Emsemble. You can find more about the original composition down below.

“Hear the Voice and Prayer of Thy Servants”

“Hear the voice and prayer of Thy Servants" was created around 1547. With the technology we have today, this piece can, of course, be found on different websites online. There are many YouTube videos of the original composition and of others performing it. The Henrician reformation occurred in the time just before the creation of this piece. This was the time period from 1529 to 1547, in which most new compositions were written in Latin. Henry VII, who was king during the reformation, was very conservative about religious rituals and music. So, receiving consent even for hymns in the vernacular proved to be exceedingly difficult. When Edward, a fervid protestant, ascended to the throne, this all changed. Officials would encourage that music be written in English from the years 1547 to 1549. After that, it was required until after the King’s death. So, “Hear the Voice and Prayer of Thy Servants” was one of the first attempts at an anthem composed in the English language. The composition as a whole is quite sophisticated and religious. The lyrics of this piece are from 2 Chronicles 6:19-21, which describe Solomon’s prayers for the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The piece itself follows an ABB repetition form, and the music usually consists of a combination of the voices of four men, which creates what I find to be a beautiful deep harmony.I think naturalism is most closely linked to this piece. I know this sounds a little absurd, but the connection, like before, is made through the fact that these two things are so opposite. Naturalism sought out to bring back the idea of paganism and move away from religion. Meanwhile, Tallis’s composition brought back religious ideas and rituals, and even took a step forward, in helping push that compositions, such as his, be written in English instead of Latin. I find the way the separate voices combining to form one harmony to be, not only interesting, but also quite beautiful.

Works Cited

Bennett, John. “A Tallis Patron?”. Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle 21 (1988): 41–44. Web...

Chantants, Les Canards. Salve Intemerata Virgo (excerpt), Thomas Tallis, 1520s by Les Canards Chantants. N.p.: SoundCloud, 28 Nov. 2013.

Ensemble, Byrd. Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - Hear the Voice and Prayer (LIVE) by Byrd Ensemble. N.p.: SoundCloud, 19 Jan. 2014.

"hear the voice and prayer" Google Image Search. 3 December 2015.

Recordings, Create. “If Ye Love me”_Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)_ Performed by UCT Choir by Create Recordings. N.p.: SoundCloud, 20 Oct. 2012.

"Thomas Tallis." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

"Thomas Tallis." Gale Biography in Context. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Biography in Context. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.