Philips was an English composer and organist who spent most of his working life in Belgium. He was a Catholic, and as such chose to leave England after a tenure as singer at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He first went to Brussels, and then quickly on to the English College in Rome where he met the English Catholic landowner Lord Thomas Paget. Philips and Paget traveled throughout Europe together, before settling in Antwerp shortly before Paget's death. There, Philips obtained a position as organist to the chapel of the Archduke Albrecht, and met his colleagues John Bull and Pieter Cornet, and probably Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck as well. He was also highly regarded as a virginal player, and made a living teaching on this instrument.
Philips was one of the most prolific northern composers of Latin sacred choral music, with a few hundred surviving motets. He also composed music for both instrumental consort and keyboard, many of these pieces surviving in arrangements of both types. These pieces involve the best-known genres of English instrumental music of the time, the fantasia, pavan, and galliard. Philips' motets also contain something of the English style in that they are all written with organ accompaniment; his style of vocal composition, however, is more in keeping with the great continental masters of the period, such as Lassus. His vocal and instrumental writing is extremely smooth, with well-planned harmonies, and a general lack of contrapuntal artifice. Philips was one of the outstanding vocal composers of his day, publishing motets in German as well as Latin.