Weelkes: Sing we at pleasure.

  • Background Information & Performance Circumstances
  • Performing Forces & their Handling
  • Texture
  • Structure
  • Tonality
  • Harmony
  • Melody
  • Rhythm and Metre
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Background Information & Performance Circumstances

  • Thomas Weelkes was probably born in 1576, and died in 1623. 
  • He was a leading composer of English madrigals. 
  • The verse text is anonymous. 
  • It was published in 1598, may have been played at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. 
  • Renaissance in style. 
  • It is a ballett (although can be called a madrigal). 
  • Madrigals are usually secular song about love, particularly in rural setting, with serious tone. 
  • A ballett is a lighter madrigal, with two main sections, each ending with a passage based on the syllables 'fa la'. It was of 16th century Italian origin, mostly homophonic, and could accompany dancing. 
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Performing Forces and their Handling.

  • In five parts, probably for soloists rather than a choir. 
  • Most likely sung by men and women. 
  • Soprano 1: cantus, which refers usually to the highest part. Range from F sharp to G. 
  • Soprana 2: quintus, has same range as soprano above, and they often cross parts. When the third line of the poem is repeated at bar 53, the parts are swapped so that soprano 1 sings what soprano 2 sang the first time. 
  • Alto: probably for a woman's voice, range from middle C to C an octave above. 
  • Tenor: range from D below middle C to G an 11th above. 
  • Bass: range from low G to D a 12th above. 
  • Alto: probably for a woman's voice, range from middle C to C an octave above. 
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Texture.

  • Five parts which sing together all the time, except for occasional rests in individual parts. 
  • Occasionally all voices have the same rhythm, therefore chordal or homorhythmic, in the manner of simple balletts. 
  • Generally parts have different rhythms, employing a freer homophonic style, as at the end of the first 'fa la'. Most frequently uses counterpoint. 
  • Counterpoint involves imitation, usually in sopranos 1 and 2, or tenors and bass. 
  • The two sopranos usually imitate at the unison, both parts singing in the same pitch. 
  • The alto 'fills in', except for the homorhythmic setting and the end of the first 'fa la'. 
  • Imitation can be sufficiently prolonged and exact, therefore allowing the term 'canon' or 'canonic imitation', for example at the end of sections. 
  • The time interval between entries is sometimes one whole bar, for example at the beginning, but some entries are seperated only by a crotchet beat, with more lively effect, for example at the end of sections. 
  • Parts frequently work in pairs: sometimes one pair repeats what another has just sung. 
  • The immediate repetitions in the passage 'shall, dancing, ever sing' involves ostinato. 
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Structure.

  • Section 1: bars 1-22. Consists of a single rhyming couplet, with imitation, but enough straight crotchets for a feeling of homophony. The 'fa la' section is mostly contrapuntal. 
  • Section 2: bars 22-end. Consists of two new rhyming couplets, the setting of the first line homophonic, the setting of the other lines is contrapuntal. The 'fa la' section is shorter than the first. 
  • Binary form, but it lacks tonal contrast of most binary structures. 
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Tonality.

  • Predates functional tonality. 
  • Mixolydian mode on G. 
  • However there is an F sharp, which is prominent in the first bars, and also in the final cadence. 
  • Tonic and dominant notes of G major are sometimes emphasised in melodic patterns. 
  • Chords 1 and 5 are prominent at cadence points, for example at the end of the first section, and at the end of the piece, as well as elsewhere. 
  • He has a cadence in D major in the B section, at 'keep the ground'. 
  • He passes through D major, then G major, then C major in the first 'fa la' section. 
  • The final perfect cadence comes after a C major passage. 
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Harmony.

  • Uses root position triads, for example 'sing we at pleasure'. 
  • Diminished chords in bars 10, 13, 16, with devil's interval. 
  • First inversion chords, for example 'content is our treasure'. 
  • Various dissonant notes, mainly suspensions and passing notes, but these don't really disturb the consonant harmonic quality. 
  • Suspensions usually on penultimate chords of some important cadences. 
  • Unaccented passing notes are numerous in the descending scalic patterns used at 'whilst we his praises sound', sometimes two parts have them in thirds and sixths. 
  • Cadences are almost all perfect. 
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Melody.

  • Much conjunct movement, including scalic passages. 
  • Leaps of a third, in particular descending thirds heard in 'content is our treasure'. 
  • Leaps of a fourth or fifth, notably where the bass outlines perfect cadences. 
  • A few larger leaps, mostly octaves, notably the falling octave 'at pleasure', and the rapid octave in the bass part of the second 'fa la' section. 
  • Balances ascending and descending movement - a leap will be followed be stepwise movement in the other direction. 
  • The alto part has less melodic interest. 
  • Three note figure first heart at 'content is our treasure' reappears prominently in the first and second 'fa la' section, contributing to melodic unity which would have been fairly unusual in music of this period. 
  • 'Sing we at pleasure' sung by sopranos forms the basis of their first 'fa la' section, and also ascents in 'shall dancing ever sing'. 
  • Word setting is syllabic throughout. 
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Rhythm and Metre.

  • In modern time, it is in simple 3/4. 
  • Relies greatly on the dotted crotchet, quaver, crotchet rhythm heard in soprano part at start. This is used in most parts, but contrast is achieved also through alternation of crotchets and minims at the start of each couplet in section 2. 
  • Frequent quavers at 'whilst he his praises sound' could be to reflect joy. 
  • Strings of quavers in the second 'fa la' section bring the section to a lively conclusion. 
  • Syncopation features in more contrapuntal passages, and where a cadence has a suspension, e.g. bar 7. 
  • There is a hemiola at the end of each 'fa la' section. 
  • Dance like quality. 
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