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   Chapter 4 THOMAS WEELKES

Twelve Good Musicians By Frederick Bridge Characters: 5796

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


1575?-1623

In the previous Lecture I have mentioned Thomas Weelkes, and now turn for a short space to this distinguished composer. As I have said before, I do not profess to include all the great English musicians of the 17th century in this short series of Lectures, and Weelkes is selected, not only as being greatly superior to many others, but because he has given us something original in the shape of combined Instrumental and Vocal work, in addition to his valuable contributions to the Madrigal School. Of this I must speak later. As a Madrigal-writer he is notable as one of the "glorious company" of contributors to The Triumphs of Oriana. Although little of his Church music is published, yet as Organist of Chichester Cathedral and, as a member of the Choir of the Chapel Royal, he was an experienced Church musician. He left many Anthems, which are preserved in MS. in various Libraries; and he contributed two pieces to Leighton's Teares and Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soul. In his Fancies for Strings he displays a very fertile imagination. I have had some of his Fancies performed at my various Lectures, and have found them remarkable for melodic interest and very advanced as regards Harmony. His instrumental writing is surprising; and, when one compares his Fancies with those by Orlando Gibbons, one is astonished at the novelty of his ideas. As will be seen later I shall have much to say in connection with Gibbons, Deering, and Purcell in regard to the Fancy. But I may as well at once explain that this was the form which was supreme in the early days of the 17th century as a vehicle for Instrumental writing. An enormous number of these compositions exist, and it was not until Purcell's time that the Fancy disappeared-being supplanted by the Sonatas for three strings and a Basso Continuo. It was a form which helped on the progress of writing for Instruments in a wonderful way. "Apt for Voices and Viols" was the usual title-page which composers loved. But, when the Fancy developed, the writing was far too elaborate to be "apt for voices," and so we get the independent instrumental Fancy. It was, as a rule, a work of some considerable length, and, while full of variety, it was lacking in any real development. The composer indulged his "Fancy," and wandered from point to point at his own sweet will.

It was with the Fancy that Weelkes made an early experiment of adding a vocal part quite independent of the strings. And he took for his vocal part the popular series of "Cryes" which were then common to the streets of London. He did not, as has so often been wrongly stated, "set the Cryes of London to music," but he took the words and the music of these old and very interesting things and added the vocal part to what was a real Fancy for strings. It is said Morley did the same thing, but I have, so far, failed to find any example of it. Ravenscrof

t took many of these same old Cryes and worked them up as Rounds, and Campion introduced Cherry Ripe into a charming song "There is a Garden in her face" in 1617; but the Humorous Fancy by Weelkes is, so far as I can see at present, the earliest of this kind of work. Later, in connection with Gibbons and Deering, I shall have much to say on this subject, as these composers also wrote Humorous Fancies, the vocal parts being the same old Cryes of London but treated in a more elaborate manner.

Weelkes' example is very charming, and although his string parts are somewhat stilted, yet there is always life in them. He makes one point which shows he was not altogether able to forget his Madrigals and Ballets. Like the latter, the Fancy at one point leaves its regular course, and for a few bars a delightful Dance tune is introduced, to the words-whatever they mean-"Twincledowne Tavye." It is as if the vendors of fish, fruit and vegetables met in the street and had a bit of a frolic together. The Fancy is resumed with the Cryes of the Chimney Sweep, Bellows-Mender etc., and later on a beautiful song for the seller of "Broome" is introduced. The words of this song date back before Weelkes, being found with slight variation in an old play called Three Ladies of London, 1584. They are sung by a character named "Conscience" who enters with brooms, and sings the song.

No doubt the tune given by Weelkes is the original one.

The conclusion of this Fancy is very charming and rather like an Anthem:

Then let us sing

And so we will make an end

With Alleluia.

There are two MSS. of this work in the British Museum. I have followed the shorter version, as the longer is not only rather dull and prolonged but includes a little deviation into vulgarity, and so is hardly suitable for modern ears. The "Alleluia" occurs in the longer MS. and I have included it in my version.

It is fortunate that there are two sets of parts, as neither of them is complete. But having been so fortunate as to find these two sets I have been able to restore the missing part.

The discovery of this Fancy is the reason why I select Weelkes instead of Wilbye, one of his great contemporaries, and I think all lovers of Shakespeare will be glad to make acquaintance with the music of the Cryes of London which saluted the Poet's ears in his daily walks.

Weelkes paid a loving tribute to "his dearest friend" Morley, on the latter's death. The date of Weelkes' death (1623) and other particulars have been brought to light by the investigations of the Rev. Dr. Fellowes, whose devotion to the madrigal school is so well known and appreciated. His paper on Weelkes (Musical Association, May, 1916) is an eloquent testimony to the worth of this composer, to whose madrigal writing I have not space quite to do justice. The Humorous Fancy, however, shows him in a new and interesting light.

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