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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
soprano - Alfonso Marin, lute
John Dowland - Flow my tears
soprano - Alfonso Marin, lute
John Dowland - Lachrimae Pavan
- classical guitar Nataly