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ClassicsOnline Home » DOWLAND, J.: Lute Music, Vol. 2 (North) - Dowland's Tears
The pre-eminent lutenist of his day, John Dowland was an almost exact contemporary of William Shakespeare. This second volume of his complete lute music (Volume One is available on Naxos 8.557586) includes perhaps his best-known work, the Lachrimae Pavan. This melancholic work became the most popular pavan of its age, a model for all pavans and was a central piece in the Elizabethan lute repertoire. The closing pavan based on the composer’s motto Semper Dowland Semper Dolens (Dowland is always doleful) is full of exquisitely restless harmonies and quotations from the composer’s songs.
By John Brunning
John Dowland (1563–1626)
Lute Music • 2
A true genius in any artistic field is a rare thing. In the world of the lute John Dowland most certainly qualifies for this accolade. Despite being a Catholic at the wrong time in English history and a man with a rather difficult complaining character, Dowland's genius still brought him praise and honour from his contemporaries. In a sonnet from 1598 the poet Richard Barnfield paid the most telling tribute to Dowland by writing: "Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch/Upon the lute doth ravish human sense". From this, and from Dowland's music itself, we can sense that Dowland's inimitable qualities as a performer (of his own compositions) were the beauty of his tone coupled with an extraordinary ability to move the emotions of his listeners.
In our 21st century Dowland is often remembered for his "Lachrimae" Pavan, and as a composer of melancholic music. This gives us, however, a very limited and unduly biased view of our "English Orpheus" because Dowland's music explores the complete range of human emotions with a unique blend of spirit, heart and intellect. The other qualities which are very much apparent are a wonderful melodic gift and a thorough, ingenious contrapuntal skill. While it is often virtuosic, Dowland's lute music is always natural and idiomatic. All of these qualities can be found throughout Dowland's canon of works which principally consists of about one hundred solo lute pieces, almost the same quantity of lute songs, with some consort pieces for viols and lute.
Shakespeare and John Dowland were exact contemporaries, born one year apart. Shakespeare, born in 1564, is known to have revised his works over many years but this does not diminish our admiration of his genius. Similarly, Dowland revised much of his music from year to year. Some lute pieces survive in as many as ten versions so it is impossible to define any as "the authentic one". The lute was a continuously developing instrument and Dowland would have begun his "luting" on an instrument with only six courses (pairs of strings) but would have played a nine or ten course lute in his maturity. Thus we can trace Dowland's development side by side with that of the lute. Of course, the writing for the instrument tells us much, as does the history of each manuscript in which the music is found. More interesting evidence can be gleaned from the dedications which Dowland gave to many of his lute pieces. Patrons and courtiers, for example, often changed their names through marriage, they received new titles by Royal command, or they may also have gained a degree at one of the two English Universities. From all these directions, we can build a fairly clear chronological journey.
While borrowing ideas from the past, Dowland and Shakespeare were both extremely innovative in their creations. In Dowland's musical environment, it was perhaps more that the air was full of certain ideas, fashions and conventions and it was simply unavoidable to share or borrow from this collective. For Dowland this might have been in the form of a phrase, (such as the famous descending Lachrimae theme) or a way of working with a musical figure and its inherent rhetorical meaning. Through his lute music, Dowland's spirit remains as alive now as it was some four hundred years ago.
In 1604 Dowland published his now famous collection Lachrimae or Seaven Teares, which was scored for five viols, or violins, with lute. The lute part was fully written out in tablature. The volume was dedicated to Queen Anne of Denmark, wife to the new English King, James I, from Scotland. Dowland tells "the reader" that he has "mixed new songs with olde, grave with light, that every eare may receive his severall content". The collection begins with Seaven Passionate Pavans, all based on Lachrimae, which are then followed by "divers other Pavans, Galliards and Almands". It is both wonderful to have this set of music by Dowland, prepared by him and printed for all to play, and yet also strange that he never made a similar collection for solo lute. So here I tried to imagine what Dowland might have chosen for a solo lute collection. My solution was to make seven pairs of Pavans and Galliards, and to make the emphasis on Melancholy, with some lightness from the galliards.
Melancholy became the most fashionable of Elizabethan humours and Dowland's Lachrimae (Tears) is a clear expression of this melancholy. During the 1580s and 1590s Dowland's Lachrimae became the most popular pavan of its age, a model for all pavans and was a central piece in the Elizabethan lute repertoire. Eventually it also became a song, Flow My Tears, published by Dowland in his Second Booke of Ayres (1600). Dowland uses the descending four-note Lachrimae theme in all of his melancholic music and it can be heard woven into almost every piece included here.
In 1597 Dowland's contemporary Thomas Morley wrote that pavans and galliards were often paired together and the galliard was "a kind of music made out of the other". Unlike some contemporaries such as Anthony Holborne and Francis Cutting, Dowland left us very few pavan and galliard pairs. The only true pair is the Lachrimae Pavan and Galliard to Lachrimae, although probably not written at the same time. I suspect that Dowland composed the galliard much later as it was printed in his final song book, A Pilgrims Solace (1612). Of the six remaining pairs included here, two are naturally coupled by title rather than musical content (Sir John Langton's Pavan/ Langton's Galliard, and Piper's Pavan and Galliard ). For the other pavans and galliards, I coupled dances that seem to fit well together, particularly when they shared thematic material, for example Dowland's Adieu and Galliard (P30).
After the opening Lachrimae Pavan and Galliard, we hear two further pavans born from the Lachrimae model. The opening of Pavan (P16) is identical to Lachrimae, but from measure two it takes a different journey. Its paired galliard here is the famous The Earl of Essex, his Galliard, also know as the song Can she excuse her wrongs (First Booke of Ayres, 1597). The second Lachrimae-type Pavan (P18) is still in the same mood and tonality as Lachrimae but its opening descending theme is heard a fifth higher than Lachrimae. Dowland wrote several pieces that begin in this manner. The galliard of Pavan (P18), M. Giles Hobies Galliard, is of the same tradition as the Earl of Essex and in the same tonality.
Several of Dowland's lute pieces became songs, and some songs were even made into lute solos. Dowland's Tears is an arrangement of I saw my lady weep from Dowland's Second Booke of Ayres. The opening of this song is almost identical to that of Sir Henry Umpton's Funeral, a pavan only found in the 1604 Lachrimae. Sir Henry was a diplomat whose life is depicted in a famous portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The lute part of the 1604 collection works well as a solo and is perfectly complete on its own.
One of Dowland's most beautiful and joyful pavans is Sir John Langton's Pavan. Thematically unconnected to the pavan, Langton's Galliard, with its slightly unusual form and extensive hemiolas, is a wonderfully interesting piece. Dowland quotes his own Battle Galliard and in the third section ascends to a high "A" on the treble string, well above any frets which he would have had on his lute. Piper's Pavan and Galliard are dedicated to a Pirate, Captain Digorie Piper. Piper's Galliard was also a song, If my complaints could passions move (First Booke of Ayres); it is not actually a melancholy piece, but rather one of bitterness and resentment. The Pavan, Dowland's Adieu (printed in the Second Booke of Ayres) was dedicated to a Master Oliver Cromwell, uncle to the famous Protector of England who was responsible for beheading King Charles I.
The final pavan and galliard appear together in one source and seem to work best in reverse order. Although the title refers to something graceful and delicate, such as a nimbly danced galliard, Mignarda is a sweet drop of melancholy. The early lute solo versions (c. 1596) are entitled Mignarda and the later 1604 version is dedicated to Henry Noel, an "olde Master and Frend" of Dowland. Noel died in 1596 and had been affectionately named "Bonny boots", honouring his excellence as a dancer. A song version, Shall I strive with words to move, was printed in A Pilgrim's Solace. Mignarda is followed by an alternative version of Lachrimae written in a higher tonality than the "original" Lachrimae and with divisions almost certainly not by Dowland himself.
The closing Semper Dowland Semper Dolens could be considered as much as a signature of Dowland as Lachrimae itself. The title (which means Dowland is always doleful) may have been a twist on the personal motto of Queen Elizabeth I, Semper Eadem (still the same) or it may have been adapted from literary sources. It is a harmonically restless pavan which contains the Lachrimae theme and several quotations from Dowland's melancholic songs. The third strain is distinctive in its opening use of a bell-like cantus firmus in the tenor voice, reminiscent of the tolling of funeral bells.
All performing versions have been edited from original sources by Nigel North. Any numbering given to identify a piece is taken from The Collected Lute music of John Dowland, Faber, 1974, edited by Diana Poulton and Basil Lam.
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