Thomas Tomkins was one of several Renaissance composers who helped establish what would later become the traditional "English" musical style. In addition to studying under the great composer William Byrd, Tomkins also lived at the same time as Thomas Weelkes and Orlando Gibbons, all of whom were composers who adhered to the principles of Renaissance polyphonic composition.
Many English composers at that time wrote sacred music only to English texts for the new Anglican Church that was founded by King Henry VIII. When David heard is, perhaps, Tomkins' most famous work and has long been recognized as one of the supreme examples of late renaissance composition. It is a blend of polyphony and harmonic writing that depicts a verse from the book of Samuel, in which King David mourns bitterly over the loss of his son, Absalom.