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Thomas Weelkes is considered among the most important of the 'serious' English Renaissance madrigalists of the heyday period 1588 to 1627. He published four volumes of madrigals between 1597 and 1608, as well as church music that includes anthems and service settings that are still popular today in the Anglican tradition. At the end of 1598, probably aged 22, Weelkes was appointed organist at Winchester College, where he remained for two or three years. He obtained his degree in Music from New College, Oxford in 1602, and then moved (as a feted composer already of three books of madrigals) to become organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers) at Chichester Cathedral between late 1601 and 1602. Drink seems to have got the better of him, but he was not the only disorderly member of the cathedral establishment, although in due course he would become its most celebrated.

 

From Thomas Weelkes: A Biographical and Critical Study by David Brown (1969):

 

The music of Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), one of the boldest and most individual of the Elizabethan madrigal-composers, was characterized by youthful enthusiasm and vivid imagination and - like that of the great sixteenth-century Italian madrigalists who influenced him - by the use of chromaticism and dissonance. The virility, breadth, and powerful imagery of his music make him a major figure, but, by an ironical twist of fate, his career was to fall short of his gifts and end in a tragic decline. Unfortunately, no letters and no certain musical autographs of Weelkes have survived; thus, as Gustav Reese put it, 'Trying to trace his biography is like proceeding from complete darkness into twilight.' 'The one thing that is really definite about him,' writes David Brown, 'is his surviving music- - at its best thoroughly positive, clear-headed, imposing and imaginative.' Most of the documentary evidence tells only of his shortcomings - for example, that he was expelled from his position as organist of Chichester Cathedral because 'he hath been, and is noted and famed for a common drunkard and a notorious swearer and blasphemer.' Nothing definitive is known about Weelkes' origins, his musical education or attitudes, the environment in which he lived and worked, or the circumstances surrounding the creation of any of his music.

 

It is not surprising, therefore, that, until now (1969), no full-length study of Weelkes and his music was ever published. Besides presenting new biographical material, David Brown analyzes in detail Weelkes' music, which includes not only some of the finest madrigals in the literature but also the impressive church anthems and the Services - particularly the ninth, in which Weelkes' crossing of the polyphonic manner of the Renaissance style with the magnificent extroversion of the Baroque produced perhaps the finest and 'most lastingly impressive experience in the whole range of his music.' Weelkes emerged during a phase of violent musical transition that brought, among with exciting possibilities, the technical and expressive uncertainties that beset a culture in a state of flux. How Weelkes responded creatively to this situation is a dominant theme of Mr. Brown's book. 

 

He suffered the ignominy of being dismissed from his church job after his employers complained that he would 'very often come ... either from the tavern or the alehouse into the choir.' Weelkes died of alcoholism in 1623. He is buried in St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London, where his memorial stone stands.

 

A longer biography is here.

 

From Thomas Weelkes’ Madrigals of 5 and 6 Parts, apt for the viols and voices, pub. 1600

 

Now let us make a merry greeting

And thank God Cupid for our meeting:

My heart is full of joy and pleasure

Since thou art here, mine only treasure.

Now will we dance and sport and play

And sing a merry roundelay.

 

No recording of this piece can be found. This MP3 (click to open link) plays the piece with synthesized brass instruments.

 

This 1967 BBC recording on YouTube, entitled Weelkes and his contemporaries sets the scene.

 

Thomas Weelkes's best-known church choral works include: 

 

 

 

The Oxford Book of English Madrigals includes 11 madrigals by Weelkes.

 

His coronation anthem, O Lord, grant the King a long life, was performed at the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla in 2023 at Westminster Abbey, London.

 

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The painting on the cover of this Fullscore publication is entitled The Lute Player, painted by Italian Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) in 1612, before he came to England in 1626. He remained there, in the household of the King's first minister, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. He died in London in February 1639, and was buried in the Queen's Chapel at Somerset House.

Thomas Weelkes ~ Now let us make a merry greeting

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