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Sing We At Pleasure by Thomas Weelkes Analysis


As one of the greatest English Madrigal composers, Weelkes published Sing We At Pleasure in 1598. It is an English madrigal which was first originated from 16th century Italy. Below is a complete analysis of Sing We At Pleasure. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.

Analysis

  • Section A starts at the beginning.
  • This type of madrigal is known as a ballet and is characterised by a light, dance-like style and fa-la-la refrains.
  • Sing We At Pleasure has a binary structure (AB)
  • The texture is polyphonic from the multiple melodies being sung.
  • There are five instruments: a five part harmony being two Sopranos, Alto, Tenor and Bass. 'Cantus' is Latin for 'song' while 'Quintus' is Latin for 'fifth part'.
  • The mood of the piece is carefree and jollity (dance like).
  • The Tenor is a transposing voice from the key signature given with a small '8' below the treble clef. This means to sing an octave lower than written.
  • The notes to the right of the clef show the range of notes the vocal part will sing.
  • There is a lack of key signature at the start. However, with F being sharpened, we presume it is in G major.
  • Occasionally, the voices have the same rhythm which is known as a chordal and homorhythmic texture.
  • There is the use of overlapping vocal entries: the Soprano 2 and Bass are first heard singing the same tune a bar later than the other parts.
  • There is an absence of dynamics and tempo to the piece.
  • The word setting is almost entirely syllabic (one syllable per note).
  • This is a piece was published in the renaissance period which was during 1500-1600.
  • The use of a dotted crochet and quaver in bar 6 creates syncopation.
  • At bar 7, there is a difference of a 10th in the Soprano 2 and Bass parts.
  • At bar 9 when the 'Fa la la' start, there is a contrapuntal polyphonic texture (there is more than two independent melodic lines).
  • Bars 9-11 are made clear they are in the key of D major from the added C sharp.
  • Bar 10 is the start of the 'Fa la la' refrain.
  • There is a tritone in the Bass and Soprano part at bar 10 (C sharp and G which is an augmented 4th). This is an unprepared tritone.
  • The dotted rhythms are mostly repeated by another voice creating a lively rhythm. This creates lively triple-time rhythms.
  • There is another tritone at bar 16 in the Bass and Soprano with the notes B and F. This represents the devil and fear.
  • At bar 22, there is a perfect cadence in G major.
  • Perfect cadences and tritones were features of Weelkes's musical style.
  • There is a hemiola (moving in duple time where two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats) in bars 20-21. This gives the sense the music is moving into duple metre.
  • The style uses consonant major chords: most of the chords are in root position or first inversion.
  • The repeat is completely unchanged.
  • Section B starts at bar 22.
  • This section is longer as it has four lines of text before the 'Fa la la' refrain whereas Section A only has two lines of text.
  • The start of Section B (bars 22-24) adopts a homophonic texture. After that, there are imitations when the vocal parts enter one beat at a time.
  • Section B uses root position chords.
  • There is an imperfect cadence at bar 33-34 of Chord 1-V (G-D).
  • There is further imitation where the vocal parts copy each other at bars 35-40.
  • The idea of using keys was still a new invention to music at the timing of this piece. Therefore, there is still some use of a modal system.
  • Bar 50-53 have a homophonic texture.
  • There is an unprepared tritone at bar 52-3 creating a syncopated suspension (chord needing to be resolved). A G suspension resolves down to a F sharp.
  • Section B ends at 53. Section B is repeated after that in a varied form.
  • The two Soprano swap parts the start along with a homophonic texture.
  • Bars 56 onwards feature imitation.
  • Weelkes tends to end sections in G major. The varied version of Section B ends at bar 62 on an imperfect cadence (V-I: D-G).
  • Madrigal singing became a social accomplishment and was helped by the invention of music printing earlier in the 16th century.

Summary 

  • Texture - Homophonic, homorhythmic and contrapuntal with imitation throughout.
  • Tonality - G major with imperfect cadences and all sections finishing on a chord of G.
  • Structure - Binary although it lacks tonal contrasts of most binary structures because Section A does not close outside the G major in which the whole piece begins and ends.
  • Harmony - Mostly root position which some first inversion chords too. There are dissonant chords, a suspensions and tritones too.
  • Melody - Mostly conjunct motion (in step) with occasional leaps of 3rds, 4ths a few larger leaps such as on 'pleasure' which goes from high G to low G.
  • Rhythm - Use of a hemiola. Lots of syncopation throughout due to imitation and dotted crochets and quavers throughout the piece.
Be sure to check out other pieces I have analysed on Ask Will Online.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

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