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Thomas Weelkes

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Thomas Weelkes (baptised in Elsted, Sussex on 25 October 1576; died London, buried 1 December 1623) was an English composer and organist. He is one of the greatest composers of madrigals of his time as well as great composer of church music.

Thomas Weelkes was baptised in the little village church of Elsted in Sussex on 25 October, 1576. His father, John Weeke may have been the rector at that church.[1] There is no information about Weelkes' childhood.

We know that in 1597 he published his first volume of madrigals, and that he was a young man then. After working for a short time at the house of Edward Darcye, he got the job of organist at Winchester College in 1598. He was paid 13s 4d (almost 67p in modern money) per quarter (i.e. every three months), but was given food and somewhere to live. He stayed there for three or four years.

During his time in Winchester, Weelkes composed two more volumes of madrigals, published in 1598 and 1600. He got his Bachelor of music degree from New College, Oxford in 1602, and moved to Chichester to take up the job of organist and choir master at the Cathedral. He was also a lay clerk at the Cathedral, and was paid £15 2s 4d (£15.11 in modern money) in addition to having food and lodgings. The next year he married Elizabeth Sandham, who came from a rich family. They had three children.

Weelkes' fourth and final volume of madrigals, published in 1608, has a title page where he says that he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. However, his name does not appear in the records at the Chapel Royal, so it is likely that he was only there for a short time until someone else was found for the job.

In later years Weelkes got into trouble with the Chichester Cathedral authorities because of his heavy drinking and bad behaviour. In 1609 he was in trouble because he was absent from work. In 1616 he was in trouble again for swearing. In the end he lost his job because he was drunk at the organ and used bad language during the service. However, he got his job back, but his behaviour was still bad.

Thomas Weelkes died in London in 1623, a year after his wife died. He was buried in St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London. In Chichester Cathedral there is a memorial stone to him.

Thomas Weelkes is best known for his vocal music, especially his madrigals and church music. Weelkes wrote more Anglican services than any other important composer of the time, mostly for evensong. Many of his anthems are verse anthems, which would have suited the small choir he was writing for at Chichester Cathedral.

Weelkes was friends with the madrigalist Thomas Morley. When Morley died in 1602, Weelkes wrote an anthem called A Remembrance of my Friend Thomas Morley, (also known as "Death hath Deprived Me"). Weelkes’s madrigals are very chromatic and use counterpoint and unusual rhythms.


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  1. Brown, David (1969). Thomas Weelkes: A Biographical and Critical Study. London: Faber. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-0-57-108933-8.