Thomas Weelkes

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Thomas Weelkes (baptised 25 October 1576 30 November 1623 [1] ) was an English composer and organist. He became organist of Winchester College in 1598, moving to Chichester Cathedral. His works are chiefly vocal, and include madrigals, anthems and services.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Organ (music) musical keyboard instrument

In music, the organ is a keyboard instrument of one or more pipe divisions or other means for producing tones, each played with its own keyboard, played either with the hands on a keyboard or with the feet using pedals. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria, who invented the water organ. It was played throughout the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman world, particularly during races and games. During the early medieval period it spread from the Byzantine Empire, where it continued to be used in secular (non-religious) and imperial court music, to Western Europe, where it gradually assumed a prominent place in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Subsequently it re-emerged as a secular and recital instrument in the Classical music tradition.

Winchester College Boarding school in Winchester, England (UK)

Winchester College is an independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years. It is the oldest of the original seven English public schools defined by the Clarendon Commission and regulated by the Public Schools Act 1868.

Contents

Life

Weelkes madrigal print: Since Robin Hood, 1608 Since Robin Hood by Weelkes.png
Weelkes madrigal print: Since Robin Hood, 1608

Weelkes was baptised in the little village church of Elsted near Chichester in West Sussex on 25 October 1576. It has been suggested that his father was John Weeke, rector of Elsted, [2] although there is no documentary evidence of the relationship. In 1597 his first volume of madrigals was published, the preface noting that he was a very young man when they were written; this helps to fix the date of his birth to somewhere in the middle of the 1570s. Early in his life he was in service at the house of the courtier Edward Darcye. At the end of 1598, probably aged 22, Weelkes was appointed organist at Winchester College, where he remained for two or three years, receiving the quarterly salary of 13s 4d (£2 for three quarters). His remuneration included board and lodging.

Elsted village in the United Kingdom

Elsted is a village and Anglican parish in the Chichester district of West Sussex, England. It lies within the civil parish of Elsted and Treyford. The village is on the Midhurst to South Harting Road 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of Midhurst.

Chichester Cathedral city in West Sussex, England

Chichester is a cathedral city in West Sussex, in South-East England. It is the only city in West Sussex and is its county town. It has a long history as a settlement from Roman times and was important in Anglo-Saxon times. It is the seat of the Church of England Diocese of Chichester, with a 12th-century cathedral.

Sussex historic county in South East England

Sussex, from the Old English Sūþsēaxe, is a historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded to the west by Hampshire, north by Surrey, northeast by Kent, south by the English Channel, and divided for many purposes into the ceremonial counties of West Sussex and East Sussex. Brighton and Hove, though part of East Sussex, was made a unitary authority in 1997, and as such, is administered independently of the rest of East Sussex. Brighton and Hove was granted City status in 2000. Until then, Chichester was Sussex's only city.

During his Winchester period, Weelkes composed a further two volumes of madrigals (1598, 1600). He obtained his B. Mus. Degree from New College, Oxford in 1602, and moved to Chichester to take up the position of organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers) at Chichester Cathedral at some time between October 1601 and October 1602. He was also given a lay clerkship at the Cathedral, being paid £15 2s 4d annually alongside his board, lodging and other amenities. The following year he married Elizabeth Sandham, from a wealthy local family. They had three children and it was rumoured that Elizabeth was already pregnant at the time of the marriage.

New College, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom

New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham, the full name of the college is St Mary's College of Winchester in Oxford. The name "New College", however, soon came to be used following its completion in 1386 to distinguish it from the older existing college of St. Mary, now known as Oriel College.

Choir Ensemble of singers

A choir is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform. Choirs may perform music from the classical music repertoire, which spans from the medieval era to the present, or popular music repertoire. Most choirs are led by a conductor, who leads the performances with arm and face gestures.

Chichester Cathedral Church in West Sussex, United Kingdom

Chichester Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Chichester. It is located in Chichester, in Sussex, United Kingdom. It was founded as a cathedral in 1075, when the seat of the bishop was moved from Selsey.

Weelkes' fourth and final volume of madrigals, published in 1608, carries a title page where he refers to himself as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal; however, records at the Chapel Royal itself do not mention him, so at most he could only have been a Gentleman Extraordinary - one of those who were asked to stand in until a permanent replacement was found.

The Chapel Royal is an establishment in the Royal Household serving the spiritual needs of the sovereign of the British royal family. Historically it was a body of priests and singers that travelled with the monarch. The term is now also applied to the chapels within royal palaces, most notably at Hampton Court and St James's Palace, and other chapels within the Commonwealth designated as such by the monarch.

While Weelkes was there the Choir of Chichester Cathedral was often in trouble with the authorities for poor behaviour. Weelkes appears to have become an alcoholic. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puts it,

Choir of Chichester Cathedral

The musical foundation of Chichester Cathedral consists of the Organist and Master of the Choristers, the Assistant Organist and the organ scholar; together with six singing men, eighteen choristers, six probationers – and including a head chorister and a senior chorister who both wear a notable medallion on a red ribbon according to their office held. The choristers and probationers are all boarders at the Prebendal School, the cathedral's choir school. The lay vicars are professional singers who all have everyday jobs.

he was not the only disorderly member of the cathedral establishment, though in due course he would become its most celebrated." [3]

In 1609 he was charged with unauthorised absence from Chichester, but no mention of drunken behaviour is made until 1613, and J Shepherd, a Weelkes scholar, has suggested caution in assuming that his decline began before this date. In 1616 he was reported to the Bishop for being "noted and famed for a comon drunckard[ sic ] and notorious swearer & blasphemer". The Dean and Chapter dismissed him for being drunk at the organ and using bad language during divine service. He was however reinstated and remained in the post until his death, although his behaviour did not improve; in 1619 Weelkes was again reported to the Bishop:

Dyvers tymes & very often come so disguised eyther from the Taverne or Ale house into the quire as is muche to be lamented, for in these humoures he will bothe curse & sweare most dreadfully, & so profane the service of God … and though he hath bene often tymes admonished … to refrayne theis humors and reforme hym selfe, yett he daylye continuse the same, & is rather worse than better therein. [4]

In 1622 Elizabeth Weelkes died. Thomas Weelkes was, by this time, reinstated at Chichester Cathedral, but appeared to be spending a great deal of time in London. He died in London in 1623, in the house of a friend, almost certainly on 30 November [1] and was buried on 1 December 1623 at St Bride's Fleet Street. Weelkes's will, made the day before he died at the house of his friend Henry Drinkwater of St Bride's parish, left his estate to be shared between his three children, with a large 50s legacy left to Drinkwater for his meat, drink and lodging. Weelkes has a memorial stone in Chichester Cathedral.

Weelkes' memorial stone in Chichester Cathedral P1300087THWlk.JPG
Weelkes' memorial stone in Chichester Cathedral

Music

Thomas Weelkes is best known for his vocal music, especially his madrigals and church music. Weelkes wrote more Anglican services than any other major composer of the time, [3] mostly for evensong. Many of his anthems are verse anthems, which would have suited the small forces available at Chichester Cathedral. It has been suggested that larger-scale pieces were intended for the Chapel Royal. A number of Weelkes's church anthems were included in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems in 1978. [5]

Only a small amount of instrumental music was written by Weelkes, and it is rarely performed. His consort music is sombre in tone, contrasting with the often gleeful madrigals.

Madrigals

Weelkes's madrigals are often compared to those of John Wilbye (who the Dictionary of National Biography described as the most famous of the English madrigalists): it has been suggested that the personalities of the two men - Wilbye appears to have been a more sober character than Weelkes - are reflected in the music. Both men were interested in word painting. Weelkes' madrigals are very chromatic and use varied organic counterpoint and unconventional rhythm in their construction. [6]

Weelkes was friends with the madrigalist Thomas Morley who died in 1602, when Weelkes was in his mid-twenties (Weelkes commemorated his death in a madrigal-form anthem titled A Remembrance of my Friend Thomas Morley, also known as "Death hath Deprived Me").

Some of Weelkes's madrigals were reprinted in popular collections during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Cultural offices
Preceded by
Jacob Hillarye
Organist
of Chichester Cathedral

1602–1623
Succeeded by
William Eames
Master of the Choristers
of Chichester Cathedral

1602–1623
Succeeded by
?

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References

  1. 1 2 His will was dated 30 November, and he was buried on 1 December, which strongly suggests he died on 30 November. See his entry at Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, vol. IX, p. 231.
  2. Collins, Walter S. (April 1963). "Recent discoveries concerning the biography of Thomas Weelkes". Music & Letters. Oxford University Press. 44 (2): 123–131. doi:10.1093/ml/44.2.123. JSTOR   731100.
  3. 1 2 David Brown, ‘Weelkes, Thomas (bap. 1576?, d. 1623)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. accessed 15 July 2014 (subscription required).
  4. Welch, C E (1957). "Two Cathedral Organists". Chichester Papers. VIII.
  5. Morris, Christopher (1978). The Oxford book of Tudor anthems: 34 Anthems for Mixed Voices. Oxford: Music Department, Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0193533257.
  6. "Thomas Weelkes biography". HOASM. Retrieved 14 July 2014.

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Weelkes, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.