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ClassicsOnline Home » DOWLAND (THE BEST OF)
The Renaissance composer John Dowland (1563–1626) was the foremost lutenist and lute
song composer of his generation. While renowned as the master of musical melancholy, he
was reputedly a cheerful man, though disappointed by his long failure to find employment
at the English court. Dowland penned some of the most enduringly beautiful music of his age,
his subtly masterful songs, lute pieces and consort music retaining their freshness and
emotional power almost four centuries after his death.
The Best of John Dowland (1563–1626)
[Track 1] Second Book of Songs or Ayres: Flow my tears (Track 2 from 8.553381)
[Track 2] 7 Fantasies: No. 7. A Fancy, P. 7 (Track 10 from 8.557586)
[Track 3] Solus cum sola, P. 10 (Track 1 from 8.570449)
[Track 4] First Book of Songs or Ayres: Come again, sweet Love doth now invite (Track 1 from 8.553381)
[Track 5] Mr. John Langton’s Pavan (Track 1 from 8.553326)
[Track 6] Round Battle Galliard, P. 39 (Track 17 from 8.570449)
[Track 7] Third Book of Songs or Ayres: Say Love if ever thou did’st find (Track 6 from 8.553381)
[Track 8] The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, her Galliard, P. 41 (Track 1 from 8.570284)
[Track 9] Semper Dowland semper dolens, P. 9 (Track 17 from 8.557862)
[Track 10] First Book of Songs or Ayres: All ye whom love or fortune (Track 22 from 8.553326)
[Track 11] The King of Denmark’s Galliard (Track 16 from 8.553326)
[Track 12] Lady Laiton’s Almain, P. 48 (Track 6 from 8.570449)
[Track 13] The Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Lisle, his Galliard, P. 91, “Sir Robert Sidney’s Galliard” (Track 11 from 8.570449)
[Track 14] A Musicall Banquet: In darkness let me dwell (Track 4 from 8.553381)
[Track 15] Lachrimae Pavan, P. 15 (Track 1 from 8.557862)
[Track 16] Second Book of Songs or Ayres: I saw my lady weep (Track 13 from 8.553381)
[Track 17] First Book of Songs or Ayres: Burst forth my tears (Track 17 from 8.553326)
[Track 18] 7 Fantasies (excerpts): No. 3. Farewell, P. 3 (Track 23 from 8.557586)
It seems probable that John Dowland was born in London in 1563, although claims have been advanced for
an Irish origin, a possibility suggested by the other forms of his name and the appearance in Irish records of
the period of other possible family members. There is greater certainty, of course, about his later career. In
1580 he was in the service of Sir Henry Cobham, ambassador from Queen Elizabeth to the King of France, and
returned in 1584, now converted to Catholicism, the religion of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and other
musicians. In 1588 he was admitted to the degree of B.Mus. at Christ Church, Oxford, and his music may
have been performed at a court occasion as early as 1590. After his return from France he had married, and
his first son Robert, who followed his father’s profession, was born probably in 1591. Dowland played for the
Queen herself in 1592 and in the same year contributed to Thomas East’s The Whole Book of Psalmes, with
their Wonted Tunes, as they are Sung in Churches, a work with a decidedly Protestant ring to it. His
application for the position of Queen’s lutenist, vacant on the death of John Johnson, one of the earliest of the
great English lutenists, was unsuccessful. Johnson was, it seems, the father of Robert Johnson, who was
appointed lutenist at the court of King James I in 1604. Dowland attributed his failure to obtain a court
appointment to his religion, but was later allowed to travel abroad with the necessary permission signed by
Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex, both hostile to the Catholic cause.
Dowland first visited the court of Heinrich Julius, Duke of Brunswick, an enthusiastic patron, before
travelling on to Kassel, to the court of the Landgrave of Hesse, known as Moritz der Gelehrte (Moritz the
Learned), where Schütz had his early training in the Hofkapelle and at the school founded by the Landgrave.
He then journeyed south to Italy, where he met the composer Marenzio. His meeting with exiled English
Catholics plotting the death of Queen Elizabeth, now regarded as a usurper, gave him considerable alarm. He
returned to Bavaria and sent Cecil news of what he had heard, anxious to protect himself in a period when
complicity in intrigue of this kind would have brought imprisonment, torture and death.
At the urging of Henry Noel, who had influence at court, Dowland returned to England, assured of Noel’s
support in any application for a court appointment. By the time of his return, however, Noel had died, his death
lamented in a moving madrigal by Thomas Morley and by Dowland in a setting of funeral psalms. In 1597,
the probable year of his return, Dowland published his first collection of lute-songs, printed by Thomas East,
and allowing alternative performance in four vocal parts. This was dedicated to Marenzio and won immediate
popularity in a period when the lute was the most fashionable of instruments.
With no court appointment in England, Dowland now accepted an invitation from King Christian IV of
Denmark, and entered his service as a lutenist in late 1598. His second collection of songs, published in 1600,
was dedicated from there to Lucy, Countess of Bedford, a woman of great culture and later the close
companion of Queen Anne, after the accession of King James I in 1603. It was in that year that Dowland
returned for a time to England, although his third collection of songs, published in England in July that year, was again given as from Denmark. He continued in intermittent service of King Christian until 1606, suffering
financial difficulties, for whatever reason, in spite of the favour shown by the King.
In England once more Dowland’s fortunes did not improve. In 1604 he published his Lachrimae or Seaven
Teares, a collection of consort pieces interspersed with fashionably sorrowful pavans, each starting with the
soon well known melancholy tune. By 1605 he was again in Denmark. In 1606 he was dismissed and returned
finally to London. The following years brought further publications and from 1609 to 1612 he was in the
service of Lord Howard de Walden. Nevertheless, in spite of his reputation and the popularity of his music in
England and abroad, he still found reason to complain of his treatment. Eventually, in October 1612, he
achieved the position he had sought for so long, as one of the King’s lutenists. He played at the funeral of
King James in May 1625 and died in February 1626, to be succeeded in his court position by his son Robert.
Dowland’s fame was immeasurably increased by his Lachrimae, a work imitated, subject to keyboard
variations, frequently quoted or referred to. Semper Dowland semper dolens (Ever Dowland ever doleful), the
punning title of one of the pavans, presented the popular image of a musician who was a master of the
fashionable humour of melancholy. In character he seems to have been a sociable and cheerful man, yet in
his music he captured the spirit of the age, or its most notable affectation. He remains not only a supreme
composer for the lute but also among the greatest of English song-writers in a Golden Age of English music.
One of Dowland’s most famous lute-songs, Flow my tears [Track 1], from the Second Book of Songs or Ayres,
published in 1600, is imbued with melancholy, reflected in the sad contour of its melody. It contained the
thematic basis for the best known of all his compositions, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven
Passionate Pavans, with Duets, other Pavans, Galliards, and Allemands, published in 1604 and dedicated to
Queen Anne of Denmark, the wife of the new King of England, James I. The collection was scored for five
viols or violins, and here a Pavan [Track 15] is heard on Dowland’s own instrument, the lute, music characterized by
its own ‘dying fall’. Semper Dowland semper dolens [Track 9], again played by the lute, uses the Lacrimae theme and
contains references to other songs of sadness.
Songs with lute accompaniment included here are Come again, sweet Love doth now invite [Track 4], from the
First Book of Songs or Ayres of 1597, an invitation to love, ‘To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die / With thee
again in sweetest sympathy‘. Say Love if ever thou did’st find [Track 7], from the third book, published in 1603, is
in praise of the aged Queen Elizabeth, ‘Queen of love and beauty’, as Dowland joined others hoping for court
preferment. All ye whom love or fortune [Track 10] from 1597 sings of a lover’s despair, and the deeply felt In
darkness let me dwell [Track 14] was published by Dowland’s son Robert in 1610 in A Musicall Banquet, a collection
of ‘Delicious Ayres’. I saw my lady weep [Track 16] praises beauty in tears, and the final song included here is Burst
forth my tears [Track 17] from 1597, for voice lute and bass viol, a reminder that Dowland’s songs could be
accompanied also by viols, with or without a lute.
Dowland’s instrumental pieces, including many dances, Pavans, Galliards and Almains, enjoyed similarly
wide contemporary popularity. The stately Pavan was generally paired with the livelier Galliard, suggesting
what later became the instrumental dance suite. The first Pavan included is Solus cum sola [Track 3]. Mr John Langton’s Pavan [Track 5], written for the Lincolnshire landowner knighted as Sir John Langton, is cheerful in mood.
The Galliard, the dance form most favoured by Dowland, is represented by Dowland’s Round Battle Galliard [Track 6]. The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, her Galliard [Track 8], published in 1610 but a reworking of a piece from
about 1590, is one of two dances for the old Queen, an acknowledgement of one of her favourite pastimes.
The King of Denmark’s Galliard [Track 11], with its martial implications, is played here by five viols and lute, and the
lute alone plays The Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Lisle, his Galliard (alternatively Sir Robert Sidney’s
Galliard) [Track 13]. One Almain is included, Lady Laiton’s Almain [Track 12].
Described by Dowland’s contemporary Thomas Morley as ‘the most principal and chiefest kind of music’
the Fantasie or Fancy allowed the composer some freedom. Dowland left seven examples of such
compositions for lute. Fantasie No.7 [Track 2] suggests something of Dowland’s possible improvisation, while
Fantasie No.3, Farewell [Track 18] bids us a melancholy adieu.
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