Wednesday Music: “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”

Today’s piece is a bit more modern than usual. It was composed in 1910. (Only in classical music would we consider something from the early twentieth century to be modern!) It’s called Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Wondering who Thomas Tallis was and why his name is in the title of this piece? Keep reading and I will tell you.

  • The original composer of the melody was a man named Thomas Tallis. Vaughan Williams gave him credit in the title, which was very nice of him, as Tallis was long dead by the time this Fantasia was written. Tallis lived in the sixteenth century, from approximately 1505 to 1585.
  • The piece is written for an expanded string orchestra, divided into three parts. One part is a full string orchestra, the second part is a single stand from each section of a string orchestra, and the third part is a string quartet. The parts are supposed to be separate from each other to achieve an organ-like sound. I confess, I never really was reminded of organs while listening to this piece, so I’m not sure Vaughan Williams succeeded here!
  • This piece is very much like an Elizabethan-age fantasia. Why someone would write something from almost four centuries ago may not make much sense—until you learn that the composer wanted to make a break in British music from its Germanic influence that dominated it in the nineteenth century. Vaughan Williams was heavily influenced by music of the Tudor era since it was free of Teutonic influence.

Incidentally, this piece is in the excellent film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.


Or click here to see on YouTube.


3 thoughts on “Wednesday Music: “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”

  1. Great idea for a challenge and a wonderful piece of music. I am hoping to follow along with these posts and occasionally even contribute something. Thank you for bringing this wonderful music into the open.


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