Thomas Weelkes (1576–1623) was a talented, popular, and gifted madrigalist, who moved from one job to another because of his unruly and drunken behaviour. Perhaps this was why none of his church music was published during his lifetime. His setting of the short Absalom lament in the Second Book of Samuel highlights the deeply personal nature of King David’s public and private mourning for his dead son:
When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up to his chamber over the gate, and wept: and thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!
(From: 2 Samuel 18: 33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Ab’salom! my son, my son Ab’salom! would God I had died for thee, O Ab’salom, my son, my son!)
We don’t know for certain when Weelkes composed this motet but it seems to me that it was most likely composed as part of the national oupouring of grief following the premature death the death in 1612 of the heir to the throne Prince Henry, son of James I. Weelkes’ motet is, for me, the best setting and most powerfully moving treatment of the text. Its quality is such that stands far above all other settings – even Billings’, the powerful way in which he handles the expression of grief and the way in he turns musical cross-relations into cries of pain seem to me to be quite simply brilliant. It’s sung in the recording below by the Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum (formerly the Choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury). Enjoy :-).[audio:http://saturdaychorale.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/When-David-Heard-Weelkes-Tewkesbury-Abbey-Schola-Cantorum.mp3|titles=When David Heard Weelkes Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum]