The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Thomas Tallis
(ca. 1505-1585)

Tallis was a church organist and composer, whose work spanned a wide period in English church music. He was born circa 1505 probably in Leicestershire and died in Greenwich Nov. 23, 1585. There is no record of his childhood. He was organist at Waltham Abbey until that foundation dissolved, organist and lay clerk at Canterbury Cathedral. Tallis then was employed as organist and composer at the Chapel Royal, over the course of four monarchs, until his death. There he survived, evidently without being persecuted, the changes in monarchies and changes of state religion between Protestantism and Catholicism. He was of the first to write for the new Church of England liturgy. Because of the changes in the state religion, Tallis set both Latin and English texts and also composed anthems, service music, some instrumental pieces, and some secular music. His vocal polyphony earned him respect and for awhile he quite well off. At the Chapel Royal, Tallis worked with his younger colleague, William Byrd. The two of them asked the Queen for additional funds, and she granted them in 1575 an exclusive license to print and publish music -- the first of its kind in England.

The popularity of psalm singing prompted Tallis to write the nine psalm tunes. The eighth appears in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) as "All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night" no. 278 (Tallis' Canon). Tallis was described in his epitaph as humble and unassuming and one who avoided religious conflict. He was much respected by four monarchs and by succeeding generations of church musicians.

Tune: Tallis’ Canon by Thomas Tallis (L M)

Tallis' Canon was composed by Thomas Tallis as one of nine tunes and several anthems for Archbishop Matthew Parker's The Whole Psalter translated into English Metre, which contayneth an hundred and fifty Psalmes. The first eight of those tunes are as follows:

The first is meeke: devout to see,
The second is sad: in maiesty,
The third doth rage: and roughly brayth,
The fourth doth fawne: and flattry playth,
The fyfth deligth: and laugheth the more,
The sixth bewayleth: it weepeth full sore,
The seventh tredeth stout: in froward race,
The eighth goeth milde: in modest pace.

"Tallis' Canon" is the eighth of these tunes, and originally was set to Psalm 67. It is also known as The Eighth Tune in some hymnals.

In addition to Tallis' Canon, other tunes found in hymnals of the 20th century include:

Tallis is also known for at least three responses:

Hymns associated with Tallis' Canon:

Hymns Associated with Tallis' Lamentation:

Hymns Associated with  The Third Tune / Third Mode Melody:

Hymns associated with Tallis' Ordinal:

Tallis' Canon is in the "Long Meter" (8, 8, 8, 8); Tallis' Ordinal is in the "Common Meter" (8, 6, 8, 6).

Sources: The Hymnuts and notes from approximately 20 hymnals.


If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.

Related Hymns and Carols