Thomas Tallis served four English monarchs during his long life. A Catholic, he survived the tumultuous religious and political upheavals and persecutions of Edward VI and Mary I. He adapted to the demands of the new reformed church, the Church of England under Henry VIII, self appointed ‘Defender of the Faith’. Under Elizabeth I a more tolerant approach to religion emerged – even the ever-present threat of invasion by Catholic Spain did not deter the Queen from allowing her subjects freedom of worship and expression. Elizabeth’s tolerance may have been dueto the fact that she herself was raised as a Catholic, and it is possible that she missed the pomp and ceremony of the Mass compared to the plain and simple Protestant services of her father’s new Church. Tallis had seen most of the old choirs of the monasteries disbanded, and the music destroyed in the dissolution.
He had learned his trade in this world, and to younger colleagues such as William Byrd he must have appeared as if from a bygone age. However, the great survivor was also very open to new compositional techniques from the continent. He adapted many of his Latin settings for the new Church – this practice called ‘contrafactum’ saw many older works given new life. This extended to his masterwork, the huge 40-part motet Spem in alium (which opens this CD) from 1573. Possibly written to celebrate Elizabeth’s 40th anniversary on the throne, it reappeared as Sing and glorify heaven’s high majesty, in which form it was used in 1616 at the investiture of the future Charles I as Prince of Wales.
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