The Kennedy Center

Thomas Weelkes


Born in 1576, English composer and organist Thomas Weelkes is considered one of the finest Tudor composers, known for madrigals and anthems. In a career that spanned the most fertile period in England's musical history, Weelkes studied the Flemish polyphonic technique used by William Byrd, but became familiar with the Italian madrigal used by Thomas Morley.
Little is known about much of Weelkes training, but he received a bachelor of music in 1602 from the Oxford University, was organist at Chichester Cathedral, and chorister at Winchester College. Despite his talent Weelkes was fired from jobs for habitual drunkenness and absence from duties.  He was known as a notorious swearer and blasphemer.
Weelkes finest madrigals appeared in publication in 1600, including Of Care, Thou Wilt Despatch Me, noted for its chromaticism, or notes outside the basic scale, plus Like two proud armies marching in the field and Thule.  Weelkes inserted triple-rhythm sections into duple-time madrigals to clarify the structural divisions and used long-range repetitive procedures for musical integration.
Much of his work was known for its dark mood, as seen in the massive anthem O Lord, Arise. Though lacking the lightness of touch of Morley, Weelkes works were more adventurous, possessed stronger links with English musical tradition, and displayed a wider range in choice of words. 
After 1608 Weelkes published no more madrigals, but devoted his energies to church music, such as the anthems Hosanna to the son of David, Alleluia, I heard a voice, and Gloria in excelsis deo. Of the composers of his time Weelkes wrote the greatest number for Anglican services.
In 1622 Weelkes' wife died, leading him to drink more heavily. He died in 1623 the day after making a will that included pay for meat, drink, and lodging to the friend in whose home he died.
Thomas Weelkes