There are no records of Tallis's early life. His year of birth is usually
taken to be about 1505 making him eighty years old at his death on 23rd November
1585; he had described himself as "very aged" eight years before.
Since his entire career was spent in London and southern England he was probably
born in the south, perhaps in Kent. In any case this was the county of his first
known appointment, Dover Priory, and the location of the Manor of Minster, the
house later leased to him by Mary Tudor.
In 1532, Tallis is described as organist at the Benedictine Dover Priory:
when he moved to his next appointment at St. Mary-at-Hill in the City of London
his post is not specified in the 1537 and 1538 records, but we assume that he
was either the organist or a singing man. The next reference to Tallis is in
1540 at the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham Abbey where he was a
senior gentleman. The Abbey was surrendered to the state on 23rd March 1540 and
the staff dismissed. Only a fortnight later the Benedictine priory of Canterbury
was also surrendered, and we next hear of Tallis as a vicar-choral in 1541 and
1542 at the re-founded secular Canterbury Cathedral.
Tallisís final appointment was as a senior gentleman at the Chapel Royal
from around 1543 onwards. During his time in the royal household Tallis served
four monarchs, Henry VIII to 1547, Edward VI from 1547 to 1553, Mary I from 1553
to 1558 and Elizabeth I from 1558 onwards. Rather late on in his life, in or
around 1552, Tallis married a woman named Joan. He died on 23rd November 1585
leaving his house in Greenwich to his wife who survived him by four years. He
was buried in St. Alphege, Greenwich.
Tallisís early works were written for the Sarum rite, the liturgy in use in
England until the Reformation. The music is large scale and melismatic and
consists of settings of votive antiphons and ritual music for the mass and
office hours. The Reformation and with it the new prayer book of 1549 created
the need for simpler music and settings of vernacular texts, a need to which
Tallis was quick to respond. The accession of Mary Tudor who re-introduced the
Catholic rite enabled Tallis to return to the large scale English Catholic style
of composition, although works from this period such as the mass Puer
Natus Est Nobis clearly show Tallisís more developed style and the first
signs of continental influence which was to affect all English composers in the
second half of the 16th century. The act of settlement introduced by Elizabeth
in 1559 abolished the Catholic rite for ever and Tallis reverted to writing
English services and anthems for public use, though he continued to produce
settings of Latin texts which were allowed for devotional use.
In all this, Tallis demonstrated a most remarkable versatility, changing and
adapting his style to suit the prevailing political environment. Viewed as a
whole his music holds up a mirror to the political and religious changes of the
List of Works