Tallis Scholars: Sacred Repertoire by Renaissance Rock Stars

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips, founder, musical director, The Tallis Scholars

Early music for the head, heart and soul, has always been a great personal passion for me, especially when sung by The Tallis Scholars, a British early music vocal ensemble who are making an Australian Tour 30th October – 8th November, 2016.

Director Peter Phillips who ‘got the polyphony bug as an undergraduate at Oxford’, founded The Tallis Scholars in England in 1973. Their reputation for excellence in performance and recording now goes before them.

Choirs both historically, and contemporarily, are usually made up of an extraordinary group of people who give outstanding performances collectively.


The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace

Among the many great musicians who have contributed to the art of singing in community are the organists and composers Thomas Tallis (1510-1585), William Byrd (1543-1623), Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) and Henry Purcell (1659-1695) all of whom were members of The Chapel Royal.

Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars will be presenting programs in Australia at Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Newcastle, featuring works by all four of these masters of music, and more.

Founded originally during the reign of King Henry VIII as an entity, one that served the spiritual needs of the British sovereign especially when they were travelling, meant that The Chapel Royal’s body of priests and singers were on hand at all times.

Today the Chapel remains at the heart of the palace of Hampton Court created by Thomas Wolsey Archbishop of York. Seconded to the crown by King Henry VIII (1491-1547), this sacred space did not survive later changes to its form.


Detail: Glorious ceiling from the Tudor period, The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace

All that is left historically of that time is its famous glorious rich blue ceiling covered with golden stars installed 1535-6 in distinct contrast to plain wainscoting.


Members of The Tallis Scholars, 2016

Peter Phillips has dedicated his career to researching the period associated with ‘early music’ and its authentic performance, presenting some 2000 concerts and making over 60 discs, encouraging an interest in polyphony (a variety of sounds produced by different voices) all over the world.

Members of The Tallis Scholars, 2016

Members of The Tallis Scholars, 2016

Members of the QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) Choir will join their colleagues The Tallis Scholars at Brisbane in Queensland with members of the Adelaide Chamber Singers performing in South Australia and the Perth Chamber Choir in Western Australia.


Historically: In England King Ethelbert embraced the Christian faith in 598 and at Canterbury, a centre for faith, worship and music grew up and flourished, so much so the English church was described as ‘a jewel in the crown’ of the Christian church.

During the twelfth century an outpouring of extraordinary intellectual inquiry and discovery began in Europe and England, at a time when cathedral schools and universities were first being established through the powerful Islamic influence on European thought. Music concerned itself with matters of the soul, harmony and music as major aspects of the kósmos, conceived as a tightly structured, hierarchical system centred on the earth and the human race.


Wall paintings, The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace

The music of the era known as the Renaissance (1300 – 1600), which The Tallis Scholars have presented over the last forty plus years, represents the spirit of an age when many men thirsted for knowledge, a desire only exceeded by their need for more.


There were many ‘Renaissance Men’ at the courts of major families such as the Medici, the Sforza, the Este, as well as art-loving Popes like Julius II (1443-1513).

They were active at a time when an overwhelming love of music spawned a legion of composers producing music for different aspects of a society that enjoyed it daily, ensuring the demand for new works was often overwhelming.

Music became an important aspect of that ‘inner man’, who strove to enhance their intellectual wealth while practicing social graces and nourishing and nurturing their spirit and soul.

Musicians-Elizabeth-1The appearance in England of the 1549, 1552 and 1559 Book of Common Prayer during the reign of Elizabeth 1 (1533 – 1603) meant that musical settings for religious services were resurrected on demand by an ever-expanding middle class.

Thomas Tallis became a member of The Chapel Royal in 1543.

It is believed he served four sovereigns, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth 1.

elizabeth+leicesterIn 1575 Elizabeth 1, who loved music, granted both Thomas Tallis and William Byrd a monopoly for printing music and music paper; the first publication under their license was a collection of 34 motets, 17 by Tallis, 17 by Byrd entitled Cantiones sacrae, which was printed by T. Vautrollier in 1575.

Together with five anthems to English texts, the Latin pieces printed by Protestant printer John Day in his Certaine Notes of 1565, comprised all of his music that Tallis saw in print during his lifetime. Tallis was one of the first to provide settings for the English liturgy and his keyboard music is regarded as both substantial and significant.


Thomas Tallis in stained glass, 19th century stained glass window of Thomas Tallis, in St Alfege’s Church, Greenwich

Byrd’s pre-eminent position when musical publication in England was in its infancy, allowed him to leave a substantial printed legacy formatted at the inception of many important musical forms. A pious religious man recognized as the leading English composer of his generation, Byrd reshaped the amazingly rich musical life of the Christian church in England and it dominated the music of the continent in depth and variety, in a way that was not seen before or since.

His extraordinary influence on the music of England, the Low Countries (The Netherlands, Belgium & Luxembourg) and Germany should not be underestimated. His outstanding legacy in sacred choral composition consists of two huge volumes entitled “Gradualia” (published 1605 & 1607).

tallis-4It was made up of short pieces of great clarity, making them one of the supreme testaments in Western music.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was a polyphonic master and the Chapel Royal’s organist, a post he kept during his lifetime,


Detail: Composer Henry Purcell by John Closterman, c1695

Henry Purcell (1658-1695) abandoned ‘himself frankly to the lilting grace of French dance music’, producing sublime church music of unsurpassed grace.

This style of music had greatly impressed the ‘Stuarts’ during their time of exile in France.

On his restoration to the English throne, Charles II was keen for English people to rejoice in an opportunity to once again hear sacred and secular music on a grand scale.

Celebrations for St. Cecilia the patron saint of music began again in earnest in 1683, and have continued ever since.

chapel-royal-2The Tallis Scholars have a cult following world wide so if you are keen to attend, be sure to buy your tickets a.s.a.p.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

tallis-2The Tallis Scholars
Australian Tour 2016

(Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth)

Philips: Cecilia Virgo
Tallis: Suscipe quaeso
Tallis: Lamentations I
Phinot: Lamentations
Part: Which was the Son of…

Muhly: Recordare, Domine (set of Lamentations) Australian Premiere
Tavener: As one who has slept
Clemens: Ego flos campi
Crecquillon: Andreas Christi famulus
Byrd: Tribue domine [Replaced by Tallis: Spem in Alium in Brisbane with members of the QPAC Choir, in Adelaide with members of the Adelaide Chamber Singers, Carl Crossin OAM and in Perth with members of the Perth Chamber Choir, Dr Margaret Pride OAM]


Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis
Gibbons: O clap your hands
Gibbons: Lift up your heads
Gibbons: O Lord in thy wrath
Rutter: Hymn to the Creator of Light
Purcell: Lord God of hosts

Allegri: Miserere
Tallis: If ye love me
Tallis: Hear the voice and prayer
Tavener: The Lamb
Purcell: Hear my prayer
Purcell: Remember not
Tallis: Spem in Alium in Newcastle

Brisbane – Queensland Performing Arts Centre – Sunday, 30 October


Newcastle – Newcastle City Hall – Tuesday, 1 November


Adelaide – Adelaide Town Hall – Thursday, 3 November


Canberra – Llewellyn Hall – Friday, 4 November


Sydney – City Recital Hall – Saturday, 5 November


Melbourne – Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne – Sunday, 6 November


Perth – St Mary’s Cathedral – Tuesday, 8 November


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