Thomas Tallis will be familiar to those who watched Showtime's The Tudors, also shown on BBC2. The producers of the series won cheers and jeers for depicting him as homosexual, or perhaps bisexual (I haven't finished the series) without any historical support for it. Advocates for more gay characters on TV have been quick to point out that there's no evidence to say he wasn't gay either, except a childless marriage to a woman named Joan. Tallis is most famous as a composer of religious music, though he also composed secular music and published the music of others.
Queen Elizabeth I granted Tallis and another composer named William Byrd the monopoly on polyphonic music and the exclusive right to public music. That's a pretty sweet deal, and must have been very lucrative. The fact that they, both Roman Catholics, survived Henry's and Edward's reigns, and then managed to keep a low enough profile to be favored by Elizabeth is a testament to their tact as well as the value of their artistic contribution.
|Merbeck's second opus|
Like Tallis and Byrd, Merbecke wrote church music. The market for it expanded with the new Anglican rites, and Merbecke's contributions were significant. Although none of these men is considered a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition, all three are included in the American Episcopalian calendar of saints.
As I write about this feast, a friend called my attention to some observations made by Pope Benedict XVI in his latest book on the life of Christ. In it, he noted that the Gospels tell us that the angels "said," not sang their good news. "Hark, the Herald Angels Said?" Fortunately, he covers this nicely. "But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present."
If the speech of angels is actually song, then Tallis, Byrd, and Merbecke must have been fluent in angelish, for no regular musician could have navigated the murderous Tudor years.