Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tallis, Thomas

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TALLIS, THOMAS (1510?–1585), musician, was probably born about 1510. He described himself in 1577 as ‘aged.’ It has been supposed that he was a choir-boy under William Cornysshe in the Chapel Royal, as his death is thus recorded in the cheque book: ‘1585. Thomas Tallis died the 23 November, and Henry Eveseede sworn to succeed him. Childe there.’ The last clause, however, probably refers to Eveseede. Sir J. Harington (1561–1612) told Burghley that his father had learnt music ‘in the fellowship of good Maister Tallis, when a young man.’ It is improbable that Tallis was, as stated by Rimbault, one of Mulliner's pupils at St. Paul's Cathedral.

The first definite fact concerning Tallis is that he was organist of Waltham Abbey before the dissolution in 1540, when he received ‘20s. for wages and 20s. in reward’ (Mr. W. H. Cummings, on the authority of W. Winters, in Musical Times, November 1876). It is noteworthy that he first appears in the eastern part of England, as did also his predecessors Dunstable, Fayrfax, and Taverner, his contemporary Tye, and his successors Byrd and Gibbons. A manuscript written by John Wylde, precentor of Waltham Abbey about 1500 (now Lansdowne MS. 763), contains Tallis's autograph, besides a number of musical treatises by Power, Walsingham, and others. The abbey possessed ‘a great large payre of organs above, one in the north quire, and a lesser payre beneath, and a lytell payre of organs in the Ladye Chapel.’ With these varied resources, it may be assumed that so wealthy a foundation bestowed special care on the services, and had a musician of celebrity as organist. At any rate, Tallis immediately or very soon after was called to the Chapel Royal. Choir-books at Peterhouse, Cambridge, written about this time, contain four works by him. In the list of Edward VI's chapel royal given by Hawkins and Burney, from an unknown authority, Tallis's name stands twentieth. For the list of musicians employed there Rimbault gives the reference Royal MS. 7 c. xvi., which, however, contains no such list. Tallis married in 1552; his wife's name was Joan. They had no children.

On 27 Nov. 1557 Queen Mary leased for twenty-one years to Richard Bowyer (then master of the children in the Chapel Royal) and Tallis the manor of Minster in Thanet, which had been one of the possessions of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (cf. Musical News, 14 May 1898, p. 485). The return of Queen Elizabeth's household expenses in 1559 includes ‘Talys in bonis 40l.;’ but all the musicians of the household were reported in arrears in their payment of the subsidy (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 146). Bowyer died in 1563; and the lease of Minster was not renewed to Tallis. The pay of the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal was 7½d. a day.

The first appearance of Tallis's works in print was in John Day's ‘Certayne notes set forth in 4 and 3 parts to be sung at the morning, communion, and evening praier,’ 1560; five anthems by Tallis were included, two of them being reprinted in Day's ‘Whole Book of Psalms in four parts,’ 1563, and all the five in ‘Morning and Evening Prayer and communion set forth in 4 parts,’ 1565. Tallis composed eight tunes for Archbishop Parker's ‘Psalter,’ 1567; and a ninth, intended for the metricised ‘Veni Creator Spiritus.’

On 21 Jan. 1575–6 Queen Elizabeth granted Tallis and William Byrd a monopoly of music-printing for twenty-one years. They then published ‘Cantiones Sacræ’ for five and more voices; sixteen pieces were by Tallis, eighteen by Byrd. From a commendatory poem by Ferdinando Richardson it appears that Byrd, who, according to his will, was born in 1543, had been Tallis's pupil:

    Tallisius magno dignus honore senex,
    Et Birdus tantum natus decorare magistrum.

Tallis's lease of Minster was near its end, and on 27 June 1577 Tallis and Byrd petitioned Elizabeth for a lease of crown lands in reversion for twenty-one years without fine, and of the value of 40l. a year. In support they alleged, ‘Tallis is aged, having served the queen and her ancestors almost forty years, and never had but one preferment, a lease given him by Queen Mary, and now within a year of expiration, the reversion granted over to another.’ The queen's ‘grant two years ago of a license for printing music has fallen out to their loss and hindrance to the value of 200 marks at least.’ The queen granted them lands to the value of 30l. a year, without fine, in possession or reversion. They received the tithes of Oversley or Oseley in Warwickshire; of Willersey, Gloucestershire; the ‘Scite of ye Manor and Demene lands’ at Billinge Magna, Northamptonshire; the ‘Scite of ye Manor with divers premises’ at Copford, Essex; lands at Drayton and Estconnel, Somerset; a chantry and tithes at Newton Place, Somerset. No more music was published in England during Tallis's life so far as is known.

Tallis died on 23 Nov. 1585, and was buried in the chancel of the parish church, Greenwich. His will was proved on 29 Nov. by Byrd and Richard Cranwell, also of the Chapel Royal. He bequeathed 40s. to the poor of Greenwich, with the request that his widow would distribute every Friday six loaves or sixpence: 2l. to his cousin, John Sayer of Thanet; the same, afterwards increased to 3l. 6s. 8d., to his wife's niece, Jane Peare; 3l. 6s. 8d. to the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, for a feast; his share of the music-printing monopoly to his wife; in case of her death during its continuance, to his godson Thomas Byrd, next to William Byrd; and the rest of his property to his wife. She survived till 1589; her will (printed in the Musician, 7 July 1897) was proved on 10 June. She left the bulk of her property to Jane Peare, with bequests to Byrd and Cranwell (her overseers) and others. She was buried with her husband, and an epitaph of four stanzas was placed on their tomb, extolling him as ‘a worthy wight, Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell,’ and the servant of four sovereigns. A century later the inscription was renewed by Dean Aldrich. The church was soon after pulled down and rebuilt (see Strype's Continuation of Stow's Survey of London). A setting of the epitaph for four voices by Dr. B. Cooke was published in T. Warren's ‘Collections of Glees.’ A short elegy upon Tallis, set by an anonymous composer (probably Byrd), is in the British Museum Additional MSS. 29401–5, and was published by Oliphant. A brass tablet with an inscription to his memory was placed in the present church in May 1876. It doubtfully gives Tallis's age as sixty-five; he was probably older.

The first specimen of Tallis's works to be printed after his death appeared in John Barnard's ‘Selected Church Musick,’ 1641, which contains his ‘First Service’ in the Dorian mode, including the canticles, responses, litany, and communion service, and five anthems. E. Lowe, in his ‘Short Directions for Cathedral Service,’ 1661, published the litany in score. The ‘Service,’ and an anthem, ‘I call and cry,’ appeared in score in Boyce's ‘Cathedral Music’ (3 vols. 1760, 1763). Hawkins printed two of the ‘Cantiones Sacræ’ and a secular part-song from Mulliner's manuscript. Two more of the ‘Cantiones,’ and the masterly anthem ‘Heare the Voyce and Prayer’ from Day's ‘Certayne Notes,’ 1560, are scored in Burney's ‘History.’ These were reprinted in Michaelis's translation of Busby's ‘History,’ Leipzig, 1822. A complete score of the ‘Cantiones’ was made by Dr. John Alcock, but not printed; it is now in the British Museum Additional MS. 23624. Dr. Arnold published another anthem, ‘All people that on earth do dwell;’ this was reprinted by the Motet Society, and also, with Welsh words, in ‘Anthemydd y Tonic Sol-fa,’ No. 1. ‘I call and cry’ (originally ‘O sacrum convivium’) was published as ‘Verba mea auribus’ at Leipzig, in Rochlitz's ‘Sammlung.’ Dr. Crotch in 1803 published the litany and the ninth hymn-tune. In the early days of the Oxford movement, when great attention was paid to the liturgical music of the Reformation period, Tallis's ‘Service’ was re-edited by John Bishop, by Dr. Rimbault, and by Joseph Warren; and portions are in Jebb's ‘Choral Responses and Litanies’ and Hullah's ‘Part Music.’ Anthems were printed by the Motet Society, also in the ‘Parish Choir’ and Burns's ‘Anthems and Services.’ The gigantic motet for forty voices, ‘Spem aliam non habui,’ was edited by Dr. A. H. Mann in 1888. The only instrumental pieces by Tallis in print are an imperfect piece taken from Additional MS. 30485, in J. Stafford Smith's ‘Musica Antiqua’ (London, 1812, fol.; another copy is in Additional MS. 31403) and two arrangements of ‘Felix namque’ in the ‘Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.’

Many works are still in manuscript at Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Royal College of Music, the Oxford libraries, Ely Cathedral, and Peterhouse, Cambridge. There is an attempt at constructing a complete list in J. Warren's edition of Boyce (1849), and a ‘first attempt’ in Grove's ‘Dictionary’ (1889). Both are deficient, omitting the masses and motets at the British Museum in Additional MSS. 17802–5, and at Peterhouse, the works at Buckingham Palace, the madrigal ‘As Cæsar wept’ in Additional MSS. 18936–9, the Anglican service in Royal MSS. Appendix 74–6, and several of the above-named publications.

The least important part of Tallis's works is undoubtedly the instrumental music, in which he was not equal on the constructive side to Redford, or on the executive side to Blithman. The organ pieces in Additional MS. 30513 (Mulliner's book) are partly fantasias on a plain chant, while some appear to be vocal works in score. The lute pieces in Additional MSS. 29246, 31992, and at the Royal College, are arranged from vocal music. In Additional MS. 4900 the motet ‘Tu nimirum’ appears as a solo song; the opposite leaf, which probably contained a lute accompaniment, is missing.

The vocal works are almost entirely sacred, and are mostly to Latin words. Tallis was one of the first to compose settings of the Anglican ‘service,’ and the memorial tablet at Greenwich calls him ‘The Father of English Church Music.’ A service in Royal MSS. Appendix 74–6 is no doubt the earliest attempt, as the books contain a prayer for Edward VI. The service in the Dorian mode, commonly called ‘Tallis in D minor,’ is still frequently sung in cathedrals. It exhibits the extreme form of the reaction against the excessive complication usual in the liturgical music at the period of the Reformation; the direction for distinctness of the words is obeyed to the letter, and even in the longest canticle, the Te Deum, the voices move exactly together from beginning to end, and the result is dull. In the shorter canticles Tallis's skill has conquered the difficulty. Harrison (Description of England) boasted of the homophonic choral singing ‘in so plaine, I saie, and distinct manner, that each one present may understand what they sing, every word having but one note;’ but it is undeniable that the restriction fettered Tallis, and set an unfavourable model for all succeeding Anglican service music. The same influence is perceptible in the anthems, so far as they are not adapted from the Latin; but they are too short for the homophony to become tedious. ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments’ and the arranged ‘I call and cry’ are still in ordinary use, and others are on the repertory of many choirs. The litany, printed for four voices by Barnard, and for five voices by Boyce, is, in the words of Crotch (quoted in Life of … Elvey, p. 49), ‘one of the finest pieces of ancient church music extant;’ yet it is agreed to have come down to us in an incorrect form. Dean Aldrich attributed the faults to Barnard, the first editor; others have thought Boyce rearranged Barnard's version; Jebb suggested that Tallis wrote a service for five voices, the litany from which was arranged by Barnard for four voices. There are portions of other services in existence at Oxford and the Royal College of Music which strengthen Jebb's suggestion. The responses to the versicles after the Apostles' creed are the most successful and best-known parts of Tallis's ‘Service.’ They are harmonisations of the ancient ecclesiastical ‘accents,’ and no other setting can compare with them; they are sung daily in choral services, and the melodic beauty of the upper part has become so familiar that congregations join in that part instead of using the simple plain-song in the tenor. Even the men of some cathedral choirs, if the boys are absent, may be heard to sing Tallis's melodies instead of the ecclesiastical plain-song.

The eight hymn-tunes in Parker's ‘Psalter’ are in the eight modes then in ordinary use; but, as treated by Tallis, the modes hardly differ from the modern keys of D minor, E minor, F major, and G major. They are set to two stanzas of the Psalms; the tenor part was, as usual, intended for the congregation. The tunes are not of the ordinary Genevan pattern which won favour in England, and they might have become the model for English psalmody if Parker's version had come into general use. The eighth tune, in canon between the tenor and soprano, has been shortened to half its length and reduced to a simple form; it is everywhere familiar, Ken's evening hymn, ‘Glory to Thee, my God, this night,’ being always sung to it. The present form of the tune already appeared in Ravenscroft's ‘Psalter,’ 1621; Ken's hymn was adapted to it about 1770. The supplementary tune, which was written for one stanza only, and is of the usual pattern, is the only other which is popularly known; it is used three times in ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ under the name of ‘Tallis.’

The Latin church music gave the composer every opportunity for the display of his contrapuntal ingenuity. The mass in Additional MSS. 17802–5 is less remarkable for its science than many of the ‘Cantiones Sacræ,’ but in every case the science is kept subordinate to musical beauty. The specimens published by Hawkins and Burney, and the others arranged as English anthems, are all masterpieces in the highest style of polyphonic sacred music. Especially wonderful is the seven-voiced ‘Miserere’ printed by Hawkins, an extraordinary instance of canonic writing, pronounced by A. G. Ritter (Zur Geschichte des Orgelspiels, p. 47) ‘a masterpiece of speculative art, such as with equal result only the greatest of the contemporary Netherlanders could create, which is of grandiose effect.’

The motet for forty voices is of all Tallis's works the most remarkable. Similar attempts are ascribed to Byrd, Milton, and Warrock or Warwick, organist to Charles I, but none have survived. The first allusion to Tallis's is in a letter of Tudway's, dated 1 May 1718, recommending a copy then belonging to James Hawkins, organist of Ely, as a suitable addition to the Harleian manuscripts, and declaring he had often heard of the work, but ‘could never believe there was any such thing’ (Harl. MS. 3782). It was performed by the Madrigal Society in 1835, 1836, and 1890; by Henry Leslie's choir in 1879, at Manchester in 1889, and at the annual conference of the Incorporated Society of Musicians on 6 Jan. 1898 (cf. Nagel, Geschichte der Musik in England, ii. 92–9). F. X. Haberl (Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch, Ratisbon, 1897 and 1898) finds the existence of ‘such monstrous works’ in England before A. and G. Gabrieli ventured to write for sixteen voices in Italy, a highly important fact for musical history.

Tallis has thus left works which are the admiration of musicians, liturgical music used daily in choral services, and hymn-tunes sung by every child. Ambros (Geschichte der Musik, ed. Kade, iii. 465) agrees with Burney that Tallis was ‘one of the greatest musicians, not only of England, but of Europe, in the sixteenth century.’

A head, purporting to be his likeness, but probably imaginary, was engraved for Haym's projected ‘History of Music.’ His autograph, ‘Thomas Tallys,’ is facsimiled in Grove's ‘Dictionary.’ Joseph Warren thought from the similarity of handwriting that Tallis copied the middle portion of Additional MS. 29996.

[The few facts of Tallis's biography are derived from the Originalia Rolls, 5 Philip and Mary, sexta pars, Rot. 69, in the Public Record Office; Harl. MS. 239; Harington's Nugæ Antiquæ, 1779, ii. 83; Lansdowne MSS. 3, f. 171; Catalogue of Hatfield MSS. ii. 155, in Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep.; Particulars for Leases, in the Public Record Office; his epitaph; Musical Times, June 1876 p. 504, November 1876 p. 649; Cheque-book of the Chapel Royal, and other authorities quoted under BYRD, WILLIAM. See also Case's Apologia Musices, 1588, p. 43; Morley's Introduction to Practicall Musicke, 1597, p. 96; Meres's Palladis Tamia, 1598, fol. 288; Day's publications in Bodleian and British Museum libraries; Hawkins's History of Music, c. 95 and App.; Burney's History, iii. 6, 27, 71–83; Jebb's Choral Service of the Church, p. 200, and Choral Responses and Litanies; Parish Choir, 1847, pp. 121, 154; Ecclesiologist, August 1859; Musical Standard, 23 Sept. 1865; Proceedings of the Musical Association, v. 98; Grove's Dictionary of Music, ii. 152, iv. 54, 257, 572; Davey's History of English Music, pp. 126–48, 479.]

H. D.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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349 i 12 Tallis, Thomas: for Willersley read Willersey