Thomas Tallis (c1505-85) lived through one of the most turbulent and dangerous periods in English history. Entering in to the service of Waltham Abbey in 1538 his employment looked secure, writing masses and music for the many religious festivals and services. Henry VIII’s simmering row with Rome over his divorce from Queen Katherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn finally boiled over, and in 1540 Waltham Abbey was ‘taken down’. The break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries meant that Tallis was out of work. He received severance pay, and with these funds purchased a quantity of musical manuscripts and a technical manual on polyphonic music. Armed with the knowledge from these materials, he obtained his next job as a member of Henry VIII’s Chapel Royal. Here Tallis weaved a dangerous path over the shifting sands of political intrigue and religious persecutions to serve not only Henry, but Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
It is for the Anglican Church under Elizabeth that he made his greatest contribution to English music. If the Queen knew of his Catholic leanings, she was untroubled – in fact she was by all accounts far more tolerant of such things than either her Protestant brother Edward VI or her rabidly anti-Protestant Catholic sister ‘Bloody’ Mary. Tallis’s masterpiece, the 40 part motet Spem in alium was commissioned by Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. It was intended to surpass a work for 40 voices by Alessando Striggio, which is does with ease. By way of a footnote, Howard was executed in 1572 for his involvement in a catholic plot to assassinate Elizabeth.
‘This is King’s College Choir at its most typical: assured, technically precise, with a marvellously professional attention to detail, but quite unfussed; a precision which simply lets the music speak for itself, in the characteristic acoustic of the great perpendicular chapel. In the two Lamentations settings one has the rare chance of hearing the men alone – a fine rich sound. Their calm restraint is admirable, the balance of the voices impeccable and there is some remarkable phrasing’ Gramophone, December 1990
Tallis: Spem In Alium
Tallis: Lamentations Of Jeremiah 1
Tallis: Lamentations Of Jeremiah 2
Tallis: Videte Miraculum
Tallis: Dum Transisset Sabbatum
Tallis: Honor, Virtus Et Potestas
Tallis: Loquebantur Variis Linguis
“This recording showcases an excellent vintage of this celebrated choir in fine performances of some Tallis's finest works.”
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