In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thomas Tallis

  • Introduction
  • Books and Large-Scale Studies
  • Editions of Music
  • Historical Surveys
  • Instrumental Music
  • Compositional Techniques
  • Historical and Biographical Information
  • Music Printing
  • Reception History
  • Issues of Performance

Music Thomas Tallis
Kerry McCarthy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0154


The life of the composer Thomas Tallis (b. c. 1505–d. 20 or 23 November 1585) spanned most of the 16th century, with all its attendant changes. Tallis began his career working for late medieval monasteries and finished it at the Elizabethan Protestant court. His music went through a number of radical transformations in the five or six decades he spent composing. It can be difficult to speak in broad terms about his musical style, and relatively few biographical documents have survived. This situation may help explain the scarcity of large-scale studies devoted specifically to Tallis’s life and works, although he plays a leading role in all general histories of 16th-century English music. There are many specialized articles on various aspects of his work, especially his complex and prolific output of Latin-texted sacred music. Because of Tallis’s great stylistic flexibility and his habit of reworking similar musical materials in different circumstances, a number of these studies do not fall easily into divisions of genre or function.

Books and Large-Scale Studies

This is a rather unusual category for a bibliography, but because there have been so few important large-scale studies dedicated exclusively to Tallis and his music, it is good to know exactly what they are. Doe 1976 is still the only monograph on the composer. The extensive Grove Music article Thomas Tallis is the best source for general information. Beginners should read it before moving on to more specialized materials. Moroney 1980 and Milsom 1983 are detailed investigations of Tallis’s evolving style and compositional process. Every serious student of Tallis should seek them out. Suzanne Cole’s book about the Victorian revival of Tallis, Thomas Tallis and His Music in Victorian England (Cole 2008a, cited under Reception History) also falls into the category of important large-scale studies.

  • Doe, Paul. Tallis. 2d ed. Oxford Studies of Composers. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

    Originally published in 1968 (London: Oxford University Press). The only published book dedicated to the life and works of Tallis. The book was written as part of a series of brief composer studies. In keeping with the format of the series, the work has fewer than seventy pages and makes no attempt to deal exhaustively with individual pieces of music. Amply illustrated with musical examples. Includes a catalogue of Tallis’s surviving works.

  • Doe, Paul, and David Allinson. “Thomas Tallis.” Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane L. Root. New York: Oxford University Press.

    An extensive and well-researched article that should be the first resource for people who want to begin exploring Tallis’s life and works. Offers a detailed summary of Tallis’s biography, taking more recent research into account and linking it to his musical development. Each genre of music is discussed at length, with special attention given to his Latin-texted polyphony. Available by subscription.

  • Milsom, John Ross. “English Polyphonic Style in Transition: A Study of the Sacred Music of Thomas Tallis.” PhD diss., Magdalen College, Oxford, 1983.

    Analytical and historical work that places Tallis’s music in a broad 16th-century European context. Traces his musical styles to a variety of English and Continental influences, including little known repertories of secular song. Chapters are dedicated to various sources, chronological periods, and stylistic processes. Provides a great deal of insightful analysis. Along with Moroney 1980, still the best detailed account of Tallis’s vocal music.

  • Moroney, Davitt. “Under Fower Sovereygnes”: Thomas Tallis and the Transformation of English Polyphony.” PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1980.

    Systematic, chronological study of Tallis’s changing style, with extensive parallel discussion of the music of his contemporaries: Robert Fayrfax and John Taverner in earlier years, John Sheppard and William Byrd in later years. Argues that Tallis began life as an essentially conservative composer and spent the last part of his career as a radical innovator. Rich in context and detail.

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