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Two English Madrigals

Two English Madrigals

Weelkes/Morely, Thomas/Thomas

Arr. Olson, Gary


  • Ensemble: Brass Quintet
  • Genre: Madrigal
  • Grade: 4
  • Duration: 5.0 minutes
  • Catalog Number: DB-CAN0102

  • Leave Alas This Tormenting
  • Hark All Ye Lovely Saints

By the close of Elizabeth's reign, music had become univeral, largely as a result of the madrigal composers and the part books which they published. Thomas Morley led this popularization with his book - A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke published in 1597. This text not only taught music to the uneducated, but also illustrated the differences between Ayres, Canzonets, Ballets and Madrigals. Partbooks and musical instruments spread through the households of England, performed by both amateur and professional musicians using whatever voices and instruments were available. Considering their use in the sixteenth century, it is not surprising that madrigals are so effective when transcribed for brass.

Thomas Morley (ca 1558-ca 1603) was the first of the great English madrigal composers. Although little is known of his early life, he was a pupil of William Byrd and received a Bachelors degree in Music from Oxford in 1588. Shortly thereafter he was appointed organist at St. Paul's, resigning in 1592 upon his appointment at the Chapel Royal. To Morley goes the distinction of publishing the first collection of English Madrigals, The Firste Booke of Madrigalls to Foure Voyces (1594). "Leave, alas this tormenting" is from The First Book of Ballets to Five Voices of 1595. This madrigal, as with other slow pieces where the interest is primarily harmonic, demands the utmost care in intonation, observing that chords of the time were tuned pure (without beats) in perfect fifths, perfect fourths, and even major thirds. Remember that the even tempered scale had not yet been invented. Care must also be taken that lines be played consistently and at the same volume so that new harmonies are heard as the consequence of polyphony rather than as individual events. Only when such care is taken, will this piece work. When successful, it will be one of the most beautiful works on any program.

As Thomas Morley was a distinguished musician and the founder of a great musical tradition, Thomas Weelkes (ca 1575-1623) was a maverick. Obtaining his Bachelors degree in Music from Oxford in 1602, he served the Chichester Cathedral from 1601 until dismissed in 1617. His first three books of madrigals published by 1600 promised a brilliant career. Productivity declined from this point. Embarrassed church leaders noted that "he hath been and is noted and famed for a common drunkard and a notorious swearer and blasphemer." Although public intoxication, lawlessness and dereliction of duty were recurrent themes among the musical staff of the cathedral, Weelkes indiscretions led to dismissal. Questions about his wife's moral turpitude aired in public trial did not further enamour Weelkes with ecclesiastic officials. In any case, his music represented a departure from the more formal style of Morley. "Hark, all ye saints above" is taken from his Ballets and Madrigals to Five Voices of 1598. This Composition is an excellent example of the freedom 16th and early 17th century composers exercised in rhythmic complexity. Many madrigals and even German chorales employed this beautiful disregard for remaining in one meter. Look. for instance, at the old and the new rhythm of such a well known chorale as "Ein Feste Burg" (in Hymnal for Colleges and Schools, ed. E. Harold Geer, Yale University Press, 1969 #218, #219) to see the damage Victorian ideas did to western music's rhythmic heritage.

This work is part of our Denver Brass Signature Series.

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