See study by D. Brown (1969).
(baptized Oct. 25, 1576, Elsted, Sussex?, Eng.—died Nov. 30, 1623, London) British composer and organist. He published his first book of madrigals in 1597 and was appointed organist at Winchester College the following year. His next two books of madrigals, his greatest, were soon published (1598, 1600), and a final volume was published in 1608. Weelkes is noted for his word painting, lively rhythms, and highly developed sense of form and structure.
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During his Winchester period, Weelkes composed a further two volumes of madrigals (1598, 1600). He obtained his B. Mus. Degree from New College, Oxford in 1602, and moved to Chichester to take up the position of organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers) at the Cathedral at some time between October 1601 and October 1602. He was also given a lay clerkship at the Cathedral, being paid £15 2s 4d annually alongside his board, lodging and other amenities. The following year he married Elizabeth Sandham, from a wealthy local family. They had three children and it was rumoured that Elizabeth was already pregnant at the time of the marriage.
Weelkes' fourth and final volume of madrigals, published in 1608, carries a title page where he refers to himself as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal; however, records at the Chapel Royal itself do not mention him, so at most he could only have been a Gentleman Extraordinary - one of those who were asked to stand in until a permanent replacement was found.
Weelkes was later to find himself in trouble with the Chichester Cathedral authorities for his heavy drinking and immoderate behaviour. In 1609 he was charged with unauthorised absence, but no mention of drunken behaviour is made until 1613, and J Shepherd, a Weelkes scholar, has suggested caution in assuming that his decline began before this date. In 1616 he was reported to the Bishop for being ‘noted and famed for a comon drunckard (sic) and notorious swearer & blasphemer’. The Dean and Chapter dismissed him for being drunk at the organ and using bad language during divine service. He was however reinstated and remained in the post until his death, although his behaviour did not improve; in 1619 Weelkes was again reported to the Bishop:
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.
In 1622 Elizabeth Weelkes died. Thomas Weelkes was, by this time, reinstated at Chichester Cathedral, but appeared to be spending a great deal of time in London. He died in London in 1623, in the house of a friend, and was buried on 1 December, 1623 at St Bride's Fleet Street. Weelkes' will, made the day before he died at the house of his friend Henry Drinkwater of St Bride's parish, left his estate to be shared between his three children, with a large 50s legacy left to Drinkwater for his meat, drink and lodging.
In Chichester Cathedral there is a memorial stone with the following inscription:
IN THE LORD
THE GREAT ELIZABETHAN
COMPOSER, ORGANIST OF
1598 AND OF THIS
FROM 1602 UNTIL HIS DEATH
He died on 30 November 1623
And was buried at St. Bride's
Church. Fleet Street. London
Weelkes was friends with the madrigalist Thomas Morley who died in 1602, when Weelkes was in his mid-twenties. (Weelkes commemorated his death in a madrigal-form anthem titled A Remembrance of my Friend Thomas Morley, also known as "Death hath Deprived Me".) His own madrigals are very chromatic and use varied organic counterpoint and unconventional rhythm in their construction.
Only a small amount of instrumental music was written by Weelkes, and it is not much performed. His consort music is all sombre in tone, contrasting with the often gleeful madrigals.