In 1990 the American scholar Ross Duffin came across three partbooks (Cantus, Tenor and Bassus) from an original set of six, in Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, dating from c. 1620 and containing works by Byrd, Wilbye, Weelkes and others. The books include fantasias, madrigals, motets, anthems and consort songs. Now known as the Blossom Partbooks (having been gifted by Mrs Dudley S Blossom), they provide the unique source for Weelkes’s hitherto unknown motet in ‘6 parts’, O vos omnes.
In Weelkes’s day, those supplicating for a BMus degree were required to submit a composition. William of Wykeham had established New College, Oxford, and Winchester College as twin foundations in the fourteenth century. Since Weelkes was (or had recently been) Organist of Winchester College when he gained his degree on 13th July, 1602, it was awarded, naturally enough, by New College whose Register records that Weelkes submitted a ‘hymnum coralem sex partium’. It has previously been conjectured that the work concerned was Laboravi in gemitu but O vos omnes now emerges as another possible candidate, both being six-part settings of Latin texts.
Weelkes had already demonstrated precocious talent and maturity in his madrigal publications of 1597 and, particularly, 1598 and 1600, so the quality of his two Latin works, either or both of which may date from c. 1602, comes as no surprise. in any case it is thought that his compositional powers were in decline in his later years due, quite probably, to problems in his private life.
The motet’s text, from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, is a Respond at Matins on Holy Saturday in the Catholic liturgy. Set out on a broad canvas with powerful emotion, O vos omnes is a fine example of the composer’s contrapuntal mastery which contrasts to great effect with declamatory homophonic writing at ‘attendite’. The close imitation in the concluding section (bars 47–end) exemplifies one of Weelkes’s favourite technical and dramatic procedures.
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