John Dowland  
John Dowland
John Dowland (1563 – buried 20 February 1626) was an English Renaissance composer, singer, and lutenist. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep" (the basis for Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal), "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's Early Music Revival has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

Front page of Lachrimae, book Lachrimae or
Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans

Career and compositions

Very little is known of John Dowland's early life, but it is generally thought he was born in London. Irish historian W. H. Grattan Flood claimed that he was born in Dalkey, near Dublin, but no corroborating evidence has ever been found either for that statement or for Thomas Fuller's claim that he was born in Westminster. In 1580 Dowland went to Paris, where he was in service to Sir Henry Cobham, the ambassador to the French court, and his successor, Sir Edward Stafford. He became a Roman Catholic at this time. In 1584, Dowland moved back to England where he was married. In 1588 he was admitted Mus. Bac. from Christ Church, Oxford. In 1594 a vacancy for a lutenist came up at the English court, but Dowland's application was unsuccessful - he claimed his religion led to his not being offered a post at Elizabeth I's Protestant court. However, his conversion was not publicized, and being Catholic did not prevent some other important musicians (such as William Byrd) from having a court career in England.
From 1598 Dowland worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark, though he continued to publish in London. King Christian was very interested in music and paid Dowland astronomical sums; his salary was 500 daler a year, making him one of the highest-paid servants of the Danish court. Though Dowland was highly regarded by King Christian, he was not the ideal servant, often overstaying his leave when he went to England on publishing business or for other reasons. Dowland was dismissed in 1606 and returned to England; in early 1612 he secured a post as one of James I's lutenists. There are few compositions dating from the moment of his royal appointment until his death in London in 1626. While the date of his death is not known, "Dowland's last payment from the court was on 20 January 1626, and he was buried at St Ann's, Blackfriars, London, on 20 February 1626."
Two major influences on Dowland's music were the popular consort songs, and the dance music of the day. Most of Dowland's music is for his own instrument, the lute. It includes several books of solo lute works, lute songs (for one voice and lute), part-songs with lute accompaniment, and several pieces for viol consort with lute. The poet Richard Barnfield wrote that Dowland's "heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense."
One of his better known works is the lute song "Flow my tears", the first verse of which runs:

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exil'd for ever let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

—John Dowland

He later wrote what is probably his best known instrumental work, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares, Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, a set of seven pavanes for five viols and lute, each based on the theme derived from the lute song "Flow my tears". It became one of the best known collections of consort music in his time. His pavane, "Lachrymae antiquae", was also popular in the seventeenth century, and was arranged and used as a theme for variations by many composers.
Dowland's music often displays the melancholia that was so fashionable in music at that time. He wrote a consort piece with the punning title "Semper Dowland, semper dolens" (always Dowland, always doleful), which may be said to sum up much of his work.
Dowland's song, "Come Heavy Sleepe, the Image of True Death", was the inspiration for Benjamin Britten's "Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar", written in 1964 for the guitarist Julian Bream. This work consists of eight variations, all based on musical themes drawn from the song or its lute accompaniment, finally resolving into a guitar setting of the song itself.
Richard Barnfield, Dowland's contemporary, refers to the lutenist in poem VIII of The Passionate Pilgrim (1598):

If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
Then must the love be great 'twixt thee and me,
Because thou lovest the one, and I the other.
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense;
Spenser to me, whose deep conceit is such
As, passing all conceit, needs no defence.
Thou lovest to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus' lute, the queen of music, makes;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drown'd
When as himself to singing he betakes.
One god is god of both, as poets feign;
One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.

—Richard Barnfield, The Passionate Pilgrim


In 1597, Dowland published his First Book of Songs in London. It was one of the most influential and important musical publications of the history of the lute. This collection of lute-songs was set out in a way that allows performance by a soloist with lute accompaniment or various combinations of singers and instrumentalists.
Dowland published two books of songs after the First Book of Songs, in 1600 and 1603, as well as the Lachrymae in 1604. He also published a translation of the Micrologus of Andreas Ornithoparcus in 1609, originally printed in Leipzig in 1517, a rather stiff and medieval treatise, but nonetheless occasionally entertaining.
Dowland's last, and in the opinion of most scholars, best work, A Pilgrimes Solace, was published in 1612, and seems to have been conceived more as a collection of contrapuntal music than as solo works.

From Wikipedia, the free ediancyclope

Lute by Marx Unverdorben, 1580
John Dowland was the greatest English lutenist and song composer. The late sixteenth century saw the development of the lute as an instrument to accompany consort songs, and in England a distinctive song type evolved: the ayre. This form, for solo voice with lute or viols, supplanted the madrigal in popularity. It was as a composer of ayres that Dowland excelled.

Dowland travelled extensively in Europe, partly because he had failed to gain a position as royal lutenist to Elizabeth I. At the age of 17 he had spent a period in Paris, in service to Sir Henry Cobham, the Ambassador to the King of France, during which time he converted to Catholicism; and it is no doubt partly as a result of this that he may have felt more comfortable on the Continent. He himself was convinced that his Catholic sympathies led to prejudice against him at the English court. In the 1590s he was received at various courts in Germany, including that of the Duke of Brunswick and the Landgrave of Hesse at Kassel, and in Italy. In Florence he met up with other disenchanted English Catholics, only to discover that they were plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. He immediately moved on to Nuremberg. From there, in November 1595, he wrote to Sir Robert Cecil in England exposing the Catholics' plot. After this he probably returned to Hesse.

In 1598 Dowland was employed as a lutenist — for a very high salary — at the court of King Christian of Denmark. Five years later, after receiving funds for his latest book of music, he returned to London, where he met with Queen Anne. In 1605 he went back to Denmark, but the pressure of his accruing debts forced him home again, where in 1609 he entered the service of Lord Walden, a man well connected with royal circles; in October 1612 he eventually gained a position as lutenist to King James I. Despite the royal appointment, he never enjoyed as great a renown in England as he did abroad.

Dowland wrote a great number of pieces for solo lute, many in dance forms; sacred music such as psalms; and four books of ayres (1597—1612) that were widely published and achieved immense popularity. Descriptions of the composer indicate a certain duality of character; he is variously described as "a cheerful person ... passing his days in lawful merriment" and as a man "filled with melancholy." This ambivalence is reflected in his music, where his light and tuneful English ayres contrast sharply with other more sombre pieces such as "In darkness let mee dwell." With his ability to give intense musical expression to the emotion of the poetry, using rhythmic devices and techniques such as word-painting, it is in his gentler, elegiac songs that Dowland's talent is without rival.
John Dowland - I saw my lady weep

Valeria Mignaco, soprano - Alfonso Marin, lute

John Dowland - Flow my tears
Valeria Mignaco, soprano - Alfonso Marin, lute
John Dowland - Lachrimae Pavan - classical guitar Nataly Makovskaya
John Dowland - Lute Works - Jakob Lindberg (1)
John Dowland - Lute Works - Jakob Lindberg (2)
John Dowland - Lute Works - Jakob Lindberg (3)
John Dowland - Lute Works - Jakob Lindberg (4)
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