Figured in seaven passionate pavans
Although there has never been a lack of composers willing to plumb the depths of despair, among the composers found deepest in the depths is the always doleful John Dowland. But while so many of his songs seem to have the last word in desolation, his deepest, darkest, and most desolate music is no doubt his collection called Lachrimae or Seaven Teares figured in Seaven Passionate Pauans...set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons.... Taking the Lachrimae Antuquae as his theme, Dowland alternates between the gloom of variations on the Lachrimae and the doom of the transcriptions of the galiards, pagans, and almands as he traces his way to death.
Although there has never been a lack of performers willing to plumb the depths of Dowland's despair, among the performers deepest in the depths is Jordi Savall. With his history of exploring the despair of composers from Sainte-Colombe to Bach, Savall and his fellow members of Hesperion XX, the crackerjack violists of Spain who have found new depths of meaning for the word doleful. In this magnificently melancholy recording from 1988, Savall and Hesperion XX perform with a concentration and an intensity that burn Dowland's despair deep into the hearts and souls of listeners, making overwhelming music of Dowland's melancholy art.
All Music Guide
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John Dowland was no less famous for his misfortunes than for his works. This subtle, elusive and strangely-behaved character led rather an adventurous life. Hailed as an Anglorum Orpheus of almost divine powers, he inspired more comments and praises than most great musicians of his generation. In the gallery of Shakespearian heroes he could be placed between Hamlet and the Jacques of As You like It if, to comply with legend, we were to retain of him only the image of tears, sleep and gloom. Although the legend may be partly based on truth, the musician himself contributed a great deal to it in his various writings; these are nothing other than the confessions of a man full of dissonances, at once vulnerable and ambitious, ingenuous and haughty - an egocentric ever at odds with a world by which he felt himself rejected. Yet the dismal accents and sombre colours we readily associate with Dowland's music may be less characteristic of his art than they arc of a period which was deeply shattered in its political security, religious beliefs and scientific conceptions. The man of the lime, confronted with his duality as a terrestrial creature yearning for Eternity was beset by doubts and dismay. It was such feelings that gave rise to what is sometimes called "XVIIth centurv melancholy". At the end of Elizabeth's reign and through the Jacobean period, England, more than any other nation, was affected by this morbid wave: melancholy became the object of new cull, to which the philosopher, the lover and the poet devoted themselves passionately... The common herd regarded it only as a precious convention, fit to be lampooned in the satires of the day; for sensitive people, however, it proved to be one of the most fecund sources of inspiration of that period, whose beacons were Donne. Hilliard and Weelkes.
Such was the climate surrounding Dowland's emblematic work, the Lachrimoe. In the manner of these Elizabethan painters who pictured the exemplary history of their model in simultaneous scenes, Dowland here save the ideally condensed vision of his musical universe. Indeed the Lachrimae collection does not belie the elegiac portrait of the composer: page after page it adds finishing touches to it, and also makes it more amiable since, as Dowland says in his preface: though the title doth promise teares, vnfit guests in these joyful times, yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musicke weepes, neither are teares shed always in sorrow, but some time in ioy and gladness.
Born in 1563 John Dowland was almost exactly contemporary with Sweelinck and Shakespeare. Of his origins and early beginnings as a musician nothing is known. As an adolescent he was 'servant' to the ambassadors of England to the court of France, spending over four years in Paris between 1580 and 1586. During this slay - which must have greatly contributed to raising his social status and orienting his musical evolution - Dowland was converted to Catholicism under the influence of the English emigrants. Back in England, he got married and in 1588 was admitted to his degree of Bachelor of Music from Christ Church. Oxford, on the same day as Thomas Morley. His increasing renown as composer and performer, however, did not win him Elizabeth's confidence; so in 1594. after vainly seeking a post as court lutenist, he left for a long journey which was to lake him to Rome with the intention of taking lessons with the famed Luca Marenzio. In Germany the Duke of Brunswick and the Landgrave of Hesse vied with each other for the honour of keeping him at their courts. He met Giovanni Croce in Venice, visited Padua, Ferrara and Bologna, played before the Arch-Duke Ferdinando I in Florence, and there (as a few years in Paris) became mixed with a group of English Papists who tried to involve him in a plot against their queen. Taking alarm, he left the town precipitately and found temporary refuge with Maurice of Hesse at Kassel. On the strength of hopeful news from England, he hurried back to London at the beginning of 1596. but was unable to secure a patronage which had been taken for granted.
Despite this new failure - or perhaps because of it -Dowland dedicated himself to studying and composing. The following year he boasted the title of Bacheler of Musick in both the Vniversities. i.e., Oxford and Cambridge, the first to have delivered this degree right from the late XVth century: he also published his first book of Ayres for voice and lute, thus initiating a genre in which England was to excell for a quarter of a century. Six editions in succession testify to the renown then enjoyed by the composer. And yet Dowland was to go into exile again. In November 1598 King Christian IV of Denmark, brother-in-law to the future James I, appointed him as court lutenist, heaping kindnesses on his virtuoso. But as years went by. Dowland's casual attendance to his duties along with his increasing debts led to his early dismissal. In 1608, after spending one third of his abroad, he returned to his native land, only to find - not without bitterness - that the court was indifferent to his music. He then applied himself to translating the Micrologus, an already ancient treatise by the German theorist Andreas Ornithopareu, collaborated on the editions of the Varietie of Lute-Lessons and of the Musical} Banquet brought out by his son Robert in 1610. In 1612 he published a fourth and las collection of works for voice and lute, under the significant title: A Pilgrimes Solace. A much belated and meagre consolation indeed was his appointment this year as on of the King's Lutes. At the age of fity, "being now gray and like the Swan, but singing towards his end", the wore out his last creative forces in the composing of some short devotional works.
John Dowland, "Doctor of Music", was buried at St Anne, Blackfirars, on February 20, 1626. While in the Service of Christian TV, Dowland made several journeys to England in order to fetch musicians and instruments for the Danish court but also to see his own interest in the country where, more than ever, he yearned for recognition. He was thus able to have this third book of Avres - dedicated to his "honorable friend John Souch.
Esquire" - published in the spring of 1603. Between 1603 and July 1604, taking advantage of the holiday granted him by the king of Denmark, he put the finishing touches to an important collection of instrumental ensemble pieces which was issued shortly after by John Windet under the title: Lachrimae, or seaven Teares figured in seaven passionate pauans, with diners other Pauans, gaillards. and Almands, set forth for the Lute. Viols or Violins, in fine partes: By John Dowland Bacheler of Musicke, and Lutenist to the most Royall and Magnificent. Christian the fourth. King of Denmark...
As shown by its heading, the collection was in the same vein as numerous contemporary cycles - both poetic and musical - of religious inspiration; their elegiac and meditative character was to spread to all secular artistic expression. How could we not think of Lassus 'Lagrime di San Pietro (1594) or, in England, of William Hunnis' Seven sobs of a Sorrowful Soul for Sine (ca. 1581) and of John Coprario's seven Funeral Teares (1606)? And how could we not relate Dowland's work to his distress after Elizabeth's death in March 1603? The tears he then shed over his vanished hopes became mingled with other tears heralding fresh hopes, for they were to touch the heart of the dedicatee, the Princess Anne, Sister to his royal patron and wife to James I of England.
This collection - the only one that Dowland ever devoted to the instrumental ensemble - consist of twenty-one pieces for whole consort of viols (two trebles, two tenors and one bass) and lute. The latter instrument is not restricted to the continuo: its part, written in tablature. is an ingenious reduction of the viol score with, here and there, some ornamental figurations highlighting the cadences. Treated in his manner, the lute adds his own particular quality to the smooth and slightly veiled tones of the consort, bringing out the polyphonic lines, and establishing a discreet pulse through the closely-woven fabric of this music. As to the violins mentioned in the title-page, they were evidently used to satisfy the taste of the court for these "vigorous and shrill" instruments. The violin was then reserved for the bands of professional musicians whose repertoire consisted mainly of dance music. The connoisseur, however, looked down on this instrument and for a long time remained attached to the consort of viols as the privileged meeting-place of his intellectual requirements and his human affinities.
Most of the material in this book is taken from Dowland's earlier works for voice and lute or for solo lute, here reworked in five parts so that they really appear as new compositions. Best-known among them is the one that gives its title to the collection, the pavan for lute, Lachrimae. No other contemporary work came anywhere near its popularity work, except Lassus' chanson' Susanne, un jour'. It took over the tablature books, passed from instrument to instrument and inspired English and continental composers with forty-odd personal versions or parodies. Dowland himself, after setting to it the text 'Flow my Tears', incorporated it into his second book of ayres for voice and lute (1600). Many suppositions have been made as to the origin of the pavan's initial motif which became, as it were, the musical signature of the composer; none of them, however, is satisfactory. It will be noted, besides the symbolism of the interval of a fourth (the fraitly of human condition, according to the philosophers), that the falling succession of two tones and a semitone constituting this motif corresponds to the definition of the tetrachord in ancient Greek theory. There is no doubt that our Bachelor of Music was well-versed in that.
From the melody 'Flow my Tears' Dowland elaborated a set of seven pavans in the Aeolian mode, each of which ought to be closely analyzed to bring out the relations between its musical content and its symbolic title. After presenting the pavan in its almost original form (L. amiquae), Dowland regenerates it somehow by introducing new elements into it (L. antiquae novae). The dramatic character of the falling intervals followed by silences and sudden outbursts (L gementes). the mournful gravity of the melody played in the alto (L. trisies) and the ambiguous atmosphere created by the elusive, plastic, sensuous lines (L. voactae) slowly move on to firmer ground where the writing becomes more homophonic (L amantix, with the theme on the dominant, stated in the tenor) until serenity is reached in the last piece with the reconciliation of its inner voices (L. verae) with the theme in the bass).
A mirror held up to melancholy or the anamorphosis of a theme, the Lachrimae leave the musician and the listener free to choose the presentation: if you assemble them in set form, you will derive an intense intellectual pleasure from following the elements of their organic unity through en ever-changing polyphony: if you couple them with the galliards, your attention will be continually solicited by the natural rhythm of tension and relaxation resulting from this association. Jordi Savall has chosen the second solution and - sometimes by means of perfectly licit transcriptions-established new relations of complementarity within this collection of miscellanies.
The fourteen pieces following the Lachrimae in the original edition are ordered according to the hierarchy of dances described by Thomas Morley, and are all dedicated to the highest personages of England. The group of pavans is prefaced by the self-portrait of the lutenist. Semper Dowlend. semper dolens (Ever Dowland, ever doleful), the most elaborate composition of the whole collection, with, in its third part, a quotation from the In Nomine which tolls like a knell in the alto. Sir Henry Umpton's Funeral, a tombeau in the style of those compose by Anthony Holborne (1599) seems to have been written directly for the instrumental ensemble and con-tains echoes of Dowland's ayre 'In darkness let me dwell'.
In this dark and heavy atmosphere the pavan for John Langton, with its major tonality, brings an almost unexpected clarity.
The galliards. a favourite form with Dowland, seldom have the playful lone suited for this type of dance. The first in the series, the very martial and picturesque Battle galliard (which was also to seduce the virginalist William Byrd) was renamed for this occasion and most opportunely dedicated to Christian IV of Denmark. Incidentally this is the only piece that Dowland condescended to offer to a foreign high personage. The Duke of Essex galliard is the instrumental version of an ayre from the first book: its words ('Can sheexcuse my wrongs') were allegedly written by Robert Devereux on the eve of his execution. For obvious reasons Dowland's posthumous homage could have been brought in the open only after Elizabeth's death. Among the other galliards, only two appear here in the original form; they are dedicated to some obscure, even unknown characters. Nicholas Griffith and Thomas Collier; the second piece is particularly interesting for the treatment in imitation of the two upper parts, in the new manner.
The work is rounded off by two allemandes whose simplicity, sturdiness and joviality could almost make us forget that they too were composed by Jo: dolandi de Lachrimae.
-Claude Chauvel (translated by Josine Monbet)