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Jeremiah Clarke and the Prince of Denmark’s March


Jeremiah Clarke or Clark (c. 1669-1670 or 1674–December 1, 1707) was a popular English baroque composer, mainly of religious music , and organist around the dawn of the eighteenth century who belongs to the generation following that of Henry Purcell.  Clarke has no clearly established early history. In 1940 a researcher named E.H. Fellowes tentatively linked him to a family of choir singers at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.  Thought to have been born in London, England, around 1674, Clarke was a pupil of John Blow at St Paul’s Cathedral. The earliest thing we really know about Clarke is that he was a boy choir singer in the Chapel Royal at the time of the coronation of James II. His voice changed in 1692; in that year he became the organist of Winchester College.  He left there in 1696, and reappears in the record on June 6, 1699, when he was appointed a vicar-choral (master of choristers) at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Clarke is best remembered for a well-known piece known as the Prince of Denmark’s March, which is commonly called the Trumpet Voluntary, written about 1700. Perhaps originally composed for keyboard, either harpsichord or organ, it may also have been part of a suite for wind instrument ensemble.   Due to a mix up in a famous songbook, the piece is often misattributed.  From c. 1878 until the 1940s the work was assigned to Henry Purcell, and was published as Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell in William Spark’s Short Pieces for the Organ, Book VII, No. 1. This version came to the attention of Sir Henry J. Wood, who made two orchestral transcriptions of it, both of which were recorded.  The recordings further cemented the erroneous notion that the original piece was by Purcell.

Clarke’s famous Trumpet Tune in D, also incorrectly attributed to Purcell, was taken from the semi-opera The Island Princess, which was a joint musical production of Clarke and Daniel Purcell, Henry Purcell’s younger brother.  This fact probably contributed to the confusion.   Clarke wrote a quantity of music for the church, including many effective anthems and cantatas, other sacred music, several hymn tunes, attractive solo songs and incidental works for the theatre including eight stage plays, some harpsichord pieces, various instrumental compositions, and other things as music master for Queen Anne.  In addition to his many anthems, he also set to music John Dryden’s poem “Alexander’s Feast.”

After receiving some promotions and titles, in 1704 Clarke became joint organist of the Chapel Royal with Dr. William Croft, composer of the tune commonly used with Isaac Watts’s “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” but in 1705 Clarke returned to St. Paul’s.  One of Clarke’s best known hymn tunes (St. Magnus, Nottingham, Birmingham, Carroll, Gerrnock, Langford, or Wilby) most often found with Thomas Kelley’s hymn “Crowned With Honor” beginning, “The head that once was crowned with thorns,” first appeared anonymously in Henry Playford’s 1707 work The Divine Companion, or David’s Harp New Tun’d, second edition, under the note, “The three following tunes by Mr. Jer. Clarke.” Since this one is actually the fourth tune, some question has been raised about its authorship, but most authorities now accept it has having come from Clarke because of its similarity to the preceding three. Robert Bridges said that Clarke “seems to have been the inventor of the modern English hymn tune.”

Accounts of Clarke’s life suggest that he was subject to periods of deep depression. As the result of an unfortunate and hopeless love affair with a very beautiful lady of a rank superior to his own which led to complete despair and melancholia, Clarke decided to take his life and rode into the country to a pond of water surrounded by trees. Undecided as to he would drown or hang himself, he tossed a coin, but it stuck on its edge in the mud.   Instead of consoling himself, he chose a third method of death, so he mounted his horse, rode to his home at St. Paul’s in London, and shot himself with a pistol in the cathedral churchyard on Dec. 1, 1707.  Suicides were not generally granted burial in consecrated ground, but an exception was made for Clarke, who was buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, though other sources state he was buried in the unconsecrated section of the cathedral churchyard).  After his death, he was succeeded at St. Paul’s by Croft.  Clarke’s piece, The “Prince of Denmark’s March,” arranged as the “Trumpet Voluntary” by Sir Henry Wood, was made famous though the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and is a popular choice for wedding music, and has been used in many weddings since then.

The following works by Jeremiah Clarke are contained in my collection:

Prince of Denmark’s March (Trumpet Voluntary).

Trumpet Tune.

material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources



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