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93—An Introduction to Thomas Tallis—Kerry McCarthy

By Thomas V. Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 11, 2020 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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All music by Thomas Tallis used with permission of the artists and labels listed below.

As a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) composed sacred music for four successive English monarchs, starting with Henry VIII and ending with Elizabeth. Those were turbulent times in England, especially for a church musician.

Like his colleague (and probable pupil) William Byrd, Tallis was able to adapt his compositional style to meet the constantly shifting ideological demands of the regimes under which he served. Unlike the combative Byrd, who in his later years removed himself from court life and made a point of his loyalty to Rome, Tallis may have simply gone with the flow. We don’t know for sure, because there is very little information about his life.

Here to tell us what we do know is singer and scholar Kerry McCarthy, author of a concise new book on Tallis’s life and music in Oxford University Press’s Master Musicians Series (which also includes her book on Byrd previously discussed on this podcast). She enthusiastically discusses his music, his times, the foundation of polyphony in plainchant which was obliterated by the Reformation, the various compositional techniques of the time, and the nature of the medieval modes with which these composers worked.

Links

Kerry McCarthy, Tallis https://global.oup.com/academic/product/tallis-9780190635213

Hear Kerry sing with Capella Romana in a groundbreaking recreation of the acoustics of a sixth-century Byzantine cathedral! Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: Medieval Byzantine Chant https://cappellaromana.org/product/lost-voices-of-hagia-sophia-medieval-byzantine-chant/

Kerry McCarthy discusses Byrd on this podcast:

Pt. 1 https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-49-catholic-composer-in-queen-elizabeths-court-pt-i-kerry-mccarthy/

Pt. 2 https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-50a-catholic-composer-in-queen-elizabeths-court-pt-iikerry-mccarthy/

Music heard in this episode

Thomas Tallis:

“If ye love me” performed by The Gesualdo Six, c/o Hyperion https://www.amazon.com/English-Motets-Gesualdo-Six/dp/B078X98G4B/

Video from their YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/yHe2FDlHHa8

“Lesson Two Parts in One” performed by Matthieu Latreille https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EsptIeArHI

“Miserere nostri” (Tallis/Byrd), “In jejunio et fletu” performed by Alamire, c/o Obsidian https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004H4OHXG/ref=dm_ws_sp_ps_dp

“Puer natus est nobis: Agnus Dei”, “Psalm Tunes from Archbishop Parker’s Psalter”, “Spem in alium” performed by Chapelle Du Roi, from their Complete Works of Tallis c/o Signum Records UK https://signumrecords.com

Chapelle’s Du Roi’s Complete Works of Tallis available affordably in the US here https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Complete-Chapelle-Du-Roi/dp/B005JWXA1K/

Ralph Vaughan Williams: “Fantasia on a Theme from Thomas Tallis” performed by Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, dir. Neville Mariner https://www.amazon.com/Williams-Greensleeves-Tallis-Neville-Marriner/dp/B000004CVM/

Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus.

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist living in New York City. He is Director of Podcasts for CatholicCulture.org, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jmbrehany2848 - Dec. 11, 2020 12:53 PM ET USA

    Greetings, Thomas: Thank you for your interesting posts! With respect to Tallis, it would be good if you could find a recording of another one of his polyphonic 'hymns', "Verily, Verily, I Say Unto You". As a musical celebration of the Real Presence, it's unparalleled in sacred music! God bless! Jim Brehany