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Thomas Tallis

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Thomas Tallis (c 1505 – 23 November 1585) was an English composer. Tallis flourished as a church musician during the often stormy sixteenth century in England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of its earliest composers.

Little is known about his early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born around 1505, in the latter part of the reign of Henry VII. His first known appointment to a musical position was as organist of Dover Priory, a Benedictine priory at Dover (now Dover College) in 1532. His career took him to London, then organist of Waltham Abbey, until the abbey was dissolved in 1540, then Canterbury Cathedral, and finally to court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543, composing and performing for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. He remained in the service of the Sovereign for the rest of his life as organist and composer, avoiding the religious controversies that raged around him.

The earliest works by Tallis that survive are devotional antiphons to the Virgin Mary, which were used outside the liturgy and were cultivated in England until the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. Henry VIII’s break with Roman Catholicism in 1534 and the rise of Thomas Cranmer noticeably influenced the style of music written. Texts became largely confined to the liturgy. The writing of Tallis and his contemporaries became less florid, with marked tendency toward a syllabic and chordal style and a diminished use of melisma.

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