Sacred Music during the the late renaissance during the Tudor Era consisted either of only voice, or both instruments and voice. Usually it was the former.
Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Though considered one of England’s greatest composers, Thomas Tallis’s parents and upbringing are not known. Like lot of musicians of his time he probably came from a humble common family, yet he was not from the peasant class. He was possibly sent at a young age to be brought up in and educated by the Church like so many boys from humble families, or non-heir’s from well to do families. Being educated by the church was usually the only way a commoner could get a decent education and learn privileged subjects such as music, law, etc…
Thomas was most known for his Sacred music. Also, his music was mostly polyphonic, two or more independent harmonies going simultaneously in the same song. Gaude gloriosa Dei Mater (Rejoice, O Glorious Mother of God), is categorized as a Sacred Anthem. It is written/performed in 6 voices and it is Polyphonic Harmony.
Music that was not religious in nature during the Tudor Renaissance existed in full swing at the King (or Queen’s) court. During the reign of Elizabeth I, some of the Protestants went to extremes, as Puritanism was starting to become popular, and Secular music was being labeled as ungodly and sacrilegious. Good thing great composers like Byrd, who was a Catholic, did not let it influence him.
William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)
Another great sacred composer of the Tudor Renaissance was William Byrd, who was actually a pupil of Thomas Tallis. It is suspected that he came from a London Merchant Class family, though it is not known for sure. Like Tallis, he probably received much of his musical education from the Church. He then became a pupil of Thomas Tallis at the Chapel Royal. Like his teacher, Byrd worked mainly for voices and usually with polyphony harmonies. This was the style of the music of the Catholic Church and later the Anglican Church of England. In time keyboard instruments like the virginals or organ would be added to sacred music. Here is one of Byrd’s Secular pieces for the virginals:
We have all heard it said that Henry VIII wrote the famous song Greensleeves, for Lady Anne Boleyn, his passionate love… Truth is, no one knows who wrote that song so it makes a great story!
That countertenor! Right?! 🙂 🙂 🙂