Today is a tragic day for lovers of the Baroque. Jeremiah Clarke, Baroque composer & organist at the Chapel Royal, committed suicide on this day 1 December, 1707, by shooting himself in the head.
Born around 1674 and having been tutored under great Baroque composer John Blow and having obtained the distinguished role of being the first organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, then organist & Master of the Choristers at the Chapel Royal – it seemed Clarke had everything to live for.
But he did not have the love of the woman he loved. Or so the story goes. Clarke appears to have fallen madly in love with a beautiful woman who was out of his league in every way, and he couldn’t bear it. We do not know if she knew of his love and spurned him, or it was reciprocated but the difference in their stations would not permit their union, or perhaps, if he was too shy to ever face her. Most of us, unfortunately, know all-too-well the agony – the unmitigated torment – that unrequited love brings into our lives.
Lamentably, he decided life wasn’t worth living.
He had trouble deciding whether to hang or drown himself and flipped a coin, which fell into mud so he decided to shoot himself instead. He was only about thirty-three years old. A complete tragedy.
There is controversy surrounding the date of his suicide and the circumstances surrounding his death due to differing accounts. Unless some amazing new piece of evidence turns up, we again do not know. But, again, as I’ve said about other historical persons who have died young, we are left with the same question: what if?
Jeremiah Clarke left behind a musical legacy which we ALL know in the form of the Prince of Denmark’s March (popularly known as the Trumpet Voluntary):
Now, I refused to have this played at my wedding because, well, that’s kind of horrible. The poor bloke, if this story is to be believed, would have wanted to marry this mysterious high-born lady. It’s simply too sad a tale, and anyway, it was a march for the slothful, corpulent dolt, Prince George of Denmark, husband to Queen Anne, and not originally intended as wedding music.In honour of Mr. Clarke, I have posted some more of his music below, which I am sure you will enjoy: