We are delighted to launch the third edition of The Thomas Tallis Trail, a unique touring mini-festival which celebrates the music of Thomas Tallis in all four of the buildings where he is known to have worked.
There is just one ensemble, and it could not be a more appropriate one, nor the year more auspicious: The Tallis Scholars (TTS), in their 50th year. Founded by a juvenile Peter Phillips, TTS is widely regarded as the world’s finest interpreter of Renaissance polyphony.
Nearly half the music is by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585), one of the greatest English composers of all time, and one of the finest composers of polyphony in Europe. None surpasses him for variety; a long life helped, but so did his skill at negotiating the treacherous eddies of religious belief and liturgy that swirled around him during the English Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Not only his livelihood but also his very survival depended on adapting his creative genius to please both Catholic and Protestant patrons. Simply to have served four disparate and disputatious monarchs is a remarkable achievement.
Other Tudor and Stuart composers we hear are Byrd, Sheppard, Purcell and Gibbons. Mainland Europe is represented by Palestrina, Josquin, Gombert, and Allegri (his Miserere), while Arvo Pärt, John Rutter and Nico Muhly provide stunning contemporary pieces, some written specially for TTS.
The festival begins at Hampton Court Palace, on the edge of London. The next day is spent in Kent, with concerts at Dover Priory and Canterbury Cathedral. On the third day we decamp for the final concert to the great Romanesque church of Waltham Abbey in Essex. As far as possible, music has been chosen to suit Tallis’s association with these buildings.
With the unmatched event-planning skills of Martin Randall Festivals, and TTS’s half century of devotion to Tallis’s compositions, this promises be an exceptionally enthralling, intense and moving three days.
The Thomas Tallis Trail is available as a package which includes not only all four concerts but also two nights’ accommodation, travel by coach, two dinners and a lunch. There is a talk by a renowned musicologist, Dr David Skinner, and opportunities to mingle with Peter Phillips and the singers. There is a choice between two 4-star hotels in the historic heart of Canterbury, the Abode and the Lodge, the cathedral’s conference centre.
Meet the musicians
The Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concerts they have established themselves as the world’s leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music.
Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serves the repertoire from the late 15th to the early 17th centuries.
The ensemble gives around 80 concerts worldwide each year in sacred and secular venues. Gimell Records was set up in 1980 solely to record the group, and their recordings have attracted many awards throughout the world.
Highlights in the 2023/24 season include tours of Japan, the far East, the USA, short visits to Italy, the Netherlands and Germany as well as one off appearances in Paris, Zurich, Dublin and Helsinki to name but a few. This season also marks the 50th Birthday of the ensemble which is celebrated with a special Birthday programme which will be performed around the world. 50 years to the day will see the group celebrating at an exclusive public event at Middle Temple Hall, London on the 3 November 2023.
Their latest recording which included Josquin’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie was the last in the series of nine albums, a project to record and release all Josquin’s masses before the 500th anniversary of the composer’s death in 2021. It was the winner of the much coveted BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Recording of the Year Award and the Gramophone Early Music Award of the same year.
Founder of The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips won an organ scholarship to St John’s College Oxford in 1972.
He has dedicated himself to the research and performance of Renaissance polyphony, appearing in over 2,200 concerts and making over 60 discs. As a result of his work, Renaissance music has come to be accepted as part of the mainstream classical repertoire.
For 33 years he contributed a regular music column to The Spectator and is owner and publisher of The Musical Times, the oldest continuously published music journal in the world. In spring 2018 BBC Radio 3 broadcasted Phillips’ view of Renaissance polyphony, in a series of six hour-long programmes.
Main Image © Rodrigo Pérez
Day 1: Friday 20 October
The festival begins with a concert at Hampton Court Palace.
Direct trains from Waterloo arrive at Hampton Court station every half hour, and the duration of the journey is c. 36 minutes. You will be met here by festival staff who will direct you to the coaches where you can leave your luggage. The procedure is the same if you arrive by road: stop at the station and put your luggage on a coach.
Coaches will pick up luggage here between 10.00am and 1.30pm, allowing the possibility to visit the palace and gardens (tickets provided), and for an independent lunch (cafeteria in the grounds or restaurants in the village) before the concert.
Rebuilt by Cardinal Wolsey from 1514, confiscated in 1528 by Henry VIII who further enlarged it, Hampton Court is the largest and most sumptuous of surviving Tudor palaces. Soon after William and Mary came to their joint throne in 1689, Sir Christopher Wren added a grand Baroque extension. Iconic architecture, formal gardens, lavish interiors, fine paintings and tapestries – this is one of the great historic sites in Britain.
Hampton Court, Chapel Royal
Tallis Magnificat and Nunc dimittis ‘Dorian’; Tallis If ye love me; Sheppard Lord’s Prayer, Tallis Absterge, domine; Tallis Derelinquat impius; Tallis Audivi vocem; Byrd Great Service Te Deum; Tallis Te Deum ‘for meanes’
The first programme on the Trail introduces us to Tallis as an Anglican composer, writing music to English words for the new reformed liturgy. Some of these relatively simple pieces have, over the centuries, become the music by which he is most widely remembered – If ye love me being a famous example. However ‘simple’ is not the word to use when describing the two settings of the Te Deum which end our programme. Although to English words, they show just how advanced this music had become in the decades after the Reformation.
The chapel is part Henry VIII – Tallis would have gazed on the amazingly elaborate ceiling with appropriate wonder – and part Queen Anne, the furnishings being designed by Wren and Hawksmoor in 1710.
Tallis served as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from, probably, 1543 until his death in 1585, serving four monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth.
Drive from Hampton Court to Canterbury (the journey time depends on traffic, and could take between two and two and a half hours), where both nights are spent. Dinner is in the hotels.
Day 2: Saturday 21 October
Coaches take you the half hour from Canterbury to Dover.
Dover College, Refectory
Tallis Mass for four voices; Byrd Miserere mei, Deus; Byrd Tribulationes civitatum; Tallis Salve intemerata
With this programme we enter the musical world which was still in currency before the Reformation. Still entirely in Latin, Tallis wrote settings of the mass, and antiphons to Mary of prodigious size, for services which were designed to last a very long time. Byrd aspired to this world, though it had passed before he was born, yet wrote music which would have suited it very well.
Built in the 1130s, the refectory of Dover Priory is one of the most impressive non-ecclesiastical buildings of the period. The monastic precinct having become a school, Dover College, in 1868, the refectory is once more a dining hall – one with excellent acoustics.
Thomas Tallis was organist at Dover Priory 1530–31, his first recorded appointment.
Return to Canterbury after the concert for a free afternoon. There is plenty to see, not least the cathedral, one of the great medieval buildings of Europe. Admission is included in the festival package.
There is a talk at 5.00pm at the cathedral conference centre by Dr David Skinner, Director of Music at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
This is followed by the first part of dinner (starter and main course) at the Cathedral Lodge; dessert is served after the concert.
Gibbons O clap your hands; Tallis Suscipe quaeso; Muhly Rough Notes; Byrd Tribue domine (Interval) Palestrina Tu es Petrus; Rutter Hymn to the Creator of Light; Gombert Lugebat David; Josquin Absalon fili mi; Pärt Which was the son of…
The Tallis Scholars’ 50th birthday season has given Peter Phillips an opportunity to programme some of the pieces which have meant most to the ensemble over the years. Some they have sung repeatedly: Byrd’s Tribue domine over 130 times, the first in 1991; some, like Muhly’s Rough Notes, commissioned by The Tallis Scholars, so far only a very few. Many other pieces could have been included, but these make a particularly satisfying sequence.
We have organised the evening concert in association with the Canterbury Festival, and the audience of a thousand is seated in the nave. Our audience has been allocated top category seats, and interval drinks just for our group are provided at the Cathedral Lodge.
Having been founded by St Augustine in ad 597, Canterbury Cathedral has claims to be the oldest organisation in the English-speaking world. It was rebuilt shortly after the Norman Conquest, and the eastern parts were further rebuilt and extended a century later – the first major construction in England in the Gothic style.
Thomas Tallis probably came to Canterbury Cathedral in 1540 after leaving Waltham Abbey; he is recorded in the next two years as a lay clerk here.
Day 3: Sunday 22 October
Travel by coach to Essex, and stop for lunch before continuing to Waltham Abbey.
Waltham Abbey, Essex
Tallis Loquebantur variis linguis; Tallis Miserere; Purcell Miserere; Allegri Miserere; Pärt Virgencita; Tallis Missa Puer natus
We end the Trail with some favourites, both by Tallis and others. Allegri’s Miserere needs no introduction. Tallis’s and Purcell’s Misereres are fascinating miniatures, built on mathematical lines. Part’s Virgencita deserves its place alongside such masterpieces from the past. But we leave Tallis with one of his greatest works – the Missa Puer natus – music of innate sonority and tireless detail. Was 7-voice polyphony ever more thrilling?
Thomas Tallis was a singer and possibly an organist at Waltham Abbey from 1538 until its dissolution in 1540 (it was the last monastery to be dissolved under Henry VIII). It had been one of the largest abbeys in the country but most of the buildings were soon demolished – except for the splendid Norman nave, which became the parish church.
Coaches drive towards central London immediately after the concert, dropping off at Kings Cross station by 5.30pm.
The festival package
Admission to all four concerts
Accommodation for two nights in Canterbury
Breakfasts, one lunch and two dinners with wine, and all tips
Lecture by Dr David Skinner
Interval drinks for the concert in Canterbury Cathedral
Tickets for admission to Canterbury Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace
Travel by comfortable private coach
A programme booklet, and the assistance of festival staff
Accommodation and prices
Choose from two places to stay in Canterbury during the festival.
Located inside the cathedral walls, the Lodge began life in 1998 as a study centre and has since been converted into conference facilities. A huddle of many-sided buildings around a courtyard, its interior is contemporary and functional. The hotel is decorated and furnished simply, but comfortably. Rooms vary in size, and all have showers (none have baths, with the exception of one room in the Lodge’s ‘value’ accommodation, see below). Service is very friendly and helpful.
There are a small number of rooms in the Lodge’s ‘value’ accommodation – these rooms are only accessible via two flights of stairs, and do not have views of the cathedral. All other rooms do have cathedral views, and are accessible by lift.
Coaches are not allowed to stop near the hotel because of council regulations, but will pull up as close to the hotel as possible, entailing a c. 10-minute walk.
Prices, per person
Value double/twin: £1,120
Standard double/twin: £1,380
Value double: £1,200
Single (single bed): £1,430
Standard double: £1,510
Part of a chain of luxury hotels, the Abode is a 4-star located on the pedestrianised High Street, about five minutes on foot from the cathedral and opposite The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. Furnishings and décor are contemporary in style, yet there are also charming period interiors. Parts of the fabric date to the 12th century.
Service is professional and friendly. The hotel’s restaurant has been awarded three AA rosettes. There is a lift to all floors. All rooms have baths with the exception of two with showers in the Comfortable double for single occupancy category.
Coaches are not allowed to stop near the hotel because of council regulations, but will pull up as close to the hotel as possible, entailing a c. 5-minute walk.
Prices, per person
Desirable double/twin: £1,570
Enviable double (twin beds not possible): £1,680
Most Enviable double (Suite) (twin beds not possible): £1,880
Comfortable double: £1,630
Desirable double: £1,720
Seats. Except in Canterbury Cathedral, specific seats are not reserved – you sit were you want. If we reach full capacity, a few seats in Hampton Court Chapel may have restricted sightlines.
Exclusive access. Except again at Canterbury Cathedral, the concerts are private. The other three are planned and administered by Martin Randall Festivals exclusively for an audience consisting of those who have taken the full festival package. The capacity is around a hundred and ten participants.
Duration. Four of the concerts are about an hour long and have no interval. The concert at Canterbury Cathedral is about two hours, with an interval.
Fitness for the festival
Some walking is unavoidable. In places, coaches park up to half a mile from the venue. Participants need to be able to walk unaided for at least 20 minutes and to stand for 15.
You will have to walk from where the coach drops off, with your luggage, to both The Abode hotel (c. 5 minutes) and the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge (c. 10 minutes).
If you are staying in the ‘value’ rooms at the Lodge, there are two flights of stairs to climb to get to your room.
Our festival style
Participation on our festivals is a very different experience from conventional group travel: no repetitive or redundant announcements, no herding by elevated umbrella, no unnecessary roll calls, little hanging around. We work on the assumption that you are adults, and our staff cultivate the virtue of unobtrusiveness.
We provide sufficient information to enable you to navigate the festival events without needing to be led. However, festival staff are also stationed around the events to direct you if needed, and are on hand throughout the day.
Each participant is given a programme booklet which contains comprehensive practical information, details of each concert and information about the places visited.
‘My first love is choral, and I was thrilled to hear The Tallis Scholars.’
‘Another memorable experience... ever inventive, surprising and surpassing expectations.’
‘The music was outstanding... a privilege and pleasure to hear.’