Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585)

How to say the name:

‘Tallis’ is said like Tal-lis. ‘Thomas’ is easy to say.

Born:

About 1505, somewhere in England (possibly Kent).

A plaque to Tallis in St Alfege’s Church

Died:

23rd November 1585 in Greenwich, Kent.

Buried:

St Alfege’s Church, Greenwich.

Type of Music:

Classical music from the Renaissance period (the period before baroque).

Some famous pieces:
  • Spem in alium. (See below for a video.)
  • ‘God grant we grace’ (a popular grace sung by Christians today).
  • ‘If ye love me’ (still popular in Anglican churches today). (See below for a video.)
Some great pieces:
  • Spem in alium.
  • Miserere nostri.
  • Gaude gloriosa.
  • Lamentations of Jeremiah.
  • The Mass Puer natus est nobis.
  • Plus many more pieces for choir!.
Some interesting facts:
  • Almost all of his music is for singing without instruments.
  • Most of his music was written for the church.
  • He was one of the greatest composers of early English music.
  • Spem in alium is amazing because it is written in 40 parts. This means that at least 40 voices are needed to sing it!
  • He composed music for all the Tudor kings and queens, except Henry VII (so he composed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I). This can’t have been easy because different Tudor kings and queens had very different ideas about what church music should be like!
  • He was a Catholic, and remained so, even though this was not allowed by some Tudor kings (such as Henry VIII).
  • For the last ten years of his life, he and one other English composer, William Byrd (c.1540–1623), were the only people allowed to print music in England!
  • The picture of Tallis on this page is the only one there is. The original was painted about 150 years after he died. This means that the picture on this page may look nothing like Tallis at all!

Here is a video of Tallis’s Spem in alium. This is piece needs at least 40 different voices. In this video there are only 6. How do you turn 6 into 40? The answer is to record over and over again. The six singers choose one part each and then sing it through. Then they choose another part and sing that through while listening to what they’ve already sung. Then they do this again… and again… The sound of all the recordings together is amazing!!

Spem in alium by Tallis

And here is a video of the beautiful anthem If ye love me by Tallis.

‘If ye love me’ by Tallis

Picture credits:
  1. Thomas Tallis. This is a engraving by Niccolò Haym after a portrait by Gerard van der Gucht (which was painted 150 years after he died, so there is no guarantee that the picture is accurate!). The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. A plaque to Tallis in St Alfege’s Church. This photograph was taken by David Conway. I have obtained permission from him to use the image here. Click here for the source of this image.
Video credits:
  1. The King’s Singers – Spem In Alium.
  2. If ye love me. If ye love me — Thomas Tallis, Taipei Chamber Singers, Guest Conductor: Bob Chilcott.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 camille willard 19th June 2014

this is cool

2 Bettie Gray Allen 28th February 2015

I’m an adult, yet learned much about Thomas Tallis. Thank you for kidsmusiccorner.co.uk

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