Thomas Tallis, like his pupil William Byrd, was a devout
Catholic during the great religious upheaval in England during the 16th
century. Likely due to his notable skill and fame as a composer, he largely
avoided the violence that often erupted between Catholics and Protestants
during that period. As a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, he served as organist
and composer to four successive monarchs—Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and
Queen Elizabeth I. Quite remarkably, Tallis was able to adjust his
compositional style to the greatly varying demands of each monarch. Thus,
during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, his music reflected the Anglican
and Puritan moods, respectively. When Mary assumed the throne after Edward's
brief reign, and sought to undo the reformations of the preceding decades,
Tallis embraced the elaborate and complex style prevalent during the early part
of the century.
Little is known of Tallis's early life, or his musical
training. It is generally accepted that he was born during the early part of
the 16th century, likely towards the end of the reign of Henry VII.
His first known musical appointment was as organist of the Dover Priory (now
Dover College) in 1532. By way of London, he then moved on to the Augustinian
monastery, Waltham Abbey, in Essex. Following the dissolution of the abbey in
1540, Tallis held a post at Canterbury Cathedral, but in 1543, was named a
Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.
Tallis stood out among his contemporaries. Queen Mary
granted him a lease on a manor in Kent, which provided a comfortable, annual
income. In 1575, he and William Byrd were granted a patent by Queen Elizabeth
to print and publish music, as well as a 21-year monopoly on polyphonic music.
The venture, however, was not particularly successful, and the pair was
eventually forced to appeal to the Queen for help. At some point in his later
life, Tallis took up residence in Greenwich, traditionally believed to have
been on Stockwell Street. It is there he died in November 1585. The exact date
is unknown, though the 23rd is generally agreed on.
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