Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hark All Ye Lovely Saints Above by Thomas Weelkes

Sung by the Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips. To be sung by the Washington Collegium under the direction of Evan Tucker this Sunday, July 19th, at 7:30 PM at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC.

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.

This was written in 1619 about neither Sir John Falstaff or Sir Toby Belch, but about the Master of Musicke for the Chichester Cathedral, Thomas Weelkes. During his lifetime, Weelkes was as famous for being a drunk as he was for being a master composer. He was as loathed by his employers as Thomas Tallis was beloved. But Thomas Weelkes's sacred music forms a large chunk of the backbone of the Anglican liturgy.

(O Son of David by Thomas Weelkes. As performed by the Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips)

But it for his role as a composer of madrigals that he ranks among the most beloved composers of his era. A sometime pupil and good friend of Thomas Morley, he also was an integral part of the 'English Madrigal School.' A group of composers who wrote took the first great secular vocal form into English.

(All At Once Well Met by Thomas Weelkes. As sung by the University of Alabama Huntsville Concert Choir, conducted by Dr. Erin Colwitz)

But there is something about the Weelkes madrigals that sound exuberant even by the bonhomie-ish standards of the English Renaissance, perhaps the work of a man who celebrated life a bit too hard. However, quite a few of his madrigals are every bit as bleak and sad as others are festive. The highs and lows of his music are manically distant from one another and perhaps Weelkes would have found an even more comfortable place for himself in music history had he been born to a Romantic era rather than a Renaissance one.

(Come Sirrah Jack Ho. As sung by the King's Singers)

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