Tallis was to remain in service as a musician of the royal household until his death, serving successively under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and finally for more than half the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1552 Tallis married a woman we know only as ‘Joan’ who was eventually to survive him by four years. In 1557 Elizabeth I granted Tallis a 21 year lease of the Manor of Minster – a large manor house near to Dartmouth in Kent – and a considerable annual income of £91 12s. He remained in loyal service to the Chapel Royal, and was formally appointed Organist in 1570 having previously worked as a singer, organist and court composer. In 1575 the post was shared jointly with William Byrd. Also in 1575, Tallis and Byrd were jointly granted one of a handful of lucrative royal patents by Elizabeth I to print music and lined blank manuscript paper. Their first job was to publish their own Cantiones, Quae ab Argumento Sacrae Vocantur, which translates as Songs, Called Sacred from their Theme. This was the first significant printed music in England, and both men contributed 17 sacred Latin motets of between 5 and 8 parts, on various religious themes. It was dedicated, with much fuss and ceremony, to Elizabeth, who was known to ‘like the Latin music’. The motets of both composers demonstrate flair and audacity in their style, and a range of musical experimentation is evident. At the time of his death, Tallis owned a large house of his own in Greenwich. He was buried in the chancel of Greenwich parish church.

The earliest surviving compositions by Tallis are three votive antiphons of the Virgin Mary, which date from around the late 1520s. This genre, popular until about 1530, largely disappeared with the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1530 and the pressure for protestant reformation by Cromwell and Cranmer. Hand in hand with this went the inclination away from the florid and highly contrapuntal church music of the first half of the sixteenth-century, which was replaced in part by a simple, chordal, syllabic, homophonic style. This straightforward and much more approachable music, where the text was delivered as simply as possible, in the vernacular and without embellishment, was one of the mainstays of the reformation.

The present Te Deum is an excellent example of this style and almost certainly dates from the period between 1535 and 1553, when Edward VI died and Mary I reinstated the Latin liturgy. It is part of a complete liturgical setting in the Dorian mode, known as the ‘short service’ because of its extremely efficient setting of the text where the words are delivered in the shortest possible time, by everybody simultaneously, without any repetition of any text, and without the required time taken to provide imitative entries and elaborate melismatic vocal lines in a polyphonic style. Some limited musical interest was provided in that it was written to be sung antiphonally, by two choirs facing each other across a chancel.

After the years of protestant liturgy under the reigns of Henry VIII (1509-1547) and Edward VI (1547-1553) the reintroduction of the Catholic rite by Mary I provoked a revival of large-scale Latin motets, with glorious and intense polyphony and extended melismatic passages. Despite the abolition of the Sarum Rite in 1559, in favour of the protestant prayer book, composers at the Chapel Royal continued to set Latin texts. Tallis was therefore one of the first composers to write music specifically for the new Anglican liturgy, and well-known and popular anthems such as If ye Love Me and Hear my Prayer have endured to this day. A number of extended psalm settings exist from this period, also in English, and also in the same simple, chordal, syllabic style. Unlike Byrd, the majority of Tallis’ output was sacred, and his contribution to secular part-song, and to keyboard and instrumental music for consorts, is largely insignificant. His crowning achievement is undoubtedly the scintillating and magnificent 40 part motet Spem in Alium. Written for 8 choirs of 5 parts each it is mesmerising to hear and quite without precedent or parallel across European music. Respected greatly by the four monarchs under whom he served, and by his contemporaries, Tallis was an unassuming character, something of a conservative plodder by the standards of some of his contemporaries (Taverner, Tye, Sheppard) and not hugely given to experimentation or diversity. Nevertheless, his work is an important and central gemstone in the catalogue of early English church music.