For as long as I can remember Sunday morning has been a time of imperative relaxation decorated with everything that contrives towards elongation and reflection. It is naturally for me (as a relic of the Christian vernacular) a day of rest, permitting an absorption in my bliss. In accession to the day’s religious overtone I regularly play music by the likes of Thomas Tallis:
Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born in the early 16th century, toward the close of the reign of Henry VII. Little is also known about Tallis’s childhood and his significance with music at that age. However, there are suggestions that he was a Child (boy chorister) of the Chapel Royal, St. James’ Palace, the same singing establishment which he later joined as a Gentleman. His first known musical appointment was in 1532, as organist of Dover Priory (now Dover College), a Benedictine priory in Kent. His career took him to London, then (probably in the autumn of 1538) to Waltham Abbey, a large Augustinian monastery in Essex which was dissolved in 1540. Tallis was paid off and also acquired a volume and preserved it; one of the treatises in it, by Leonel Power, prohibits consecutive unisons, fifths, and octaves.
Tallis’s next post was at Canterbury Cathedral. He was next sent to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543 (which later became a Protestant establishment), where he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI (1547–1553), Queen Mary (1553–1558), and Queen Elizabeth I(1558 until Tallis died in 1585). Throughout his service to successive monarchs as organist and composer, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.” Tallis was capable of switching the style of his compositions to suit the different monarchs’ vastly different demands. Among other important composers of the time, including Christopher Tye and Robert White, Tallis stood out. Walker observes, “He had more versatility of style than either, and his general handling of his material was more consistently easy and certain.” Tallis was also a teacher, not only of William Byrd, but also of Elway Bevin, an organist of Bristol Cathedral, and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.
Tallis married around 1552; his wife, Joan, outlived him by four years. They apparently had no children. Late in his life he lived in Greenwich, possibly close to the royal palace: a local tradition holds that he lived on Stockwell Street.
The sacred element of the music is quite incidental to its choral feature. I especially relish Latin no doubt for the same reason opera always sounds authentic only in Italian. Even though I have abandoned Saturday night drinking bouts, the pacification of Sunday morning choral music never fails to gratify. I confess to the ascetic pleasure of ancient music’s seeming sternness, an oddly purifying submersion. Sunday is an appeasement for the coming week.
On a Sunday such as this – when I have nothing planned but an evening dinner-and-a-movie with a friend and when the weather is uninviting, cold and threatening rain – I fluidly adapt to what is a manifestly indulgent behaviour. Granted we have expiated our guilt by doing some ritual laundry but otherwise the morning is dedicated entirely to leisure. I have for example enjoyed more than my usual quantity of strong black coffee, an extravagance I normally avoid because it inopportunely floods me. I have by contrast governed my food intake by restricting myself to the usual composition for breakfast; namely, orange wedges, ham, cheese slices, sliced cherry tomatoes and green pepper, one fried egg, a portion of anchovies and a large slice of dry whole wheat bread. If this sounds less than abstemious I rebut by observing that it does not include butter or peanut butter which I am historically fond of adding uncontrollably.
Sunday morning is the opportunity to relish my things. While this hardly sounds flattering it is a shameless truth. Many of my favourite things are tucked away, hidden from sight, things like my Nikon binoculars (special ordered from an optician in Almonte), Shrade “Uncle Henry” knife (bought at a map store in Carleton Place), Mont Blanc key chain (purchased at the airport in Rome) and collection of silver ornaments and watches (from Holt Renfrew in Montreal or ordered on-line from Bali or found in inauspicious stores in South Carolina). My affection for portable trinkets is undeniable. And the bent is equally preposterous considering how seldom I use the items. I can only imagine that each of them was an effort to create a milestone or somehow mark the landscape, perhaps even as tacky as a memento. Few of my accessories have survived in my possession. With predictable regularity I end up selling them or giving them away. Now I am more inclined (if at all) to employ these frills as strictly private absorptions, likewise secreted under the sleeve or collar of a sweater. Admittedly I still harbour a fascination with 18K gold bracelets but increasingly I am discovering my inherent distaste for such display. I have acclimatized myself to sterling silver instead. All that now persists in gold are two custom-made rings, a signet and a “pinky” which both harken to my younger days when I viewed those specifics as marks of recognition and status. The watches, knife and binoculars speak generally to my fondness for precision.