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Saturday quotes 2.21 Dowland’s training

October 14, 2012

“What time and diligence I haue bestowed in the search of Musicke, what trauel in forren countries, what successe and estimation euen among strangers I haue found, I leaue to the report of others”

– John Dowland, The First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597)

While rather late to qualify for Saturday morning, today’s quotes mark the beginning of a series on John Dowland and his music.

John Dowland (1563 – 1626) is primarily known today as the preeminent lutenist of the Elizabethan era and the first and best composer of English lute songs; one of a handful of of artists who define the Golden Age of English literature and music.  Yet while Dowland certainly performed before the ‘Virgin Queen’, he was never granted the honor of doing so in an official capacity like his colleagues, Anthony Holborne, ‘Gentleman and Servant to her most excellent Maiesti’ and William Byrd, ‘Gentleman of the Chapel Royal’.

If Musicke and sweet Poetrie agree,
As they must needs (the Sister and the brother)
Then must the loue be great twixt thee and me,
Because thou lou’st the one, and I the other.
Dowland to thee is deere, whose heauenly tuch
Vpon the Lute dooth rauish humane sense;
Spenser to me, whose deepe Conceit is such,
As passing all conceit, needs no defence.
Thou lou’st to heare the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus Lute (the Queene of Musicke) makes;
And I in deepe Delight am chiefly drownd,
When as himselfe to singing he betakes.
One God is God of both (as Poets faine)
One Knight loues Both, and both in thee remaine.

– Richard Barnfield, The Passionate Pilgrime (1599)

Why the Queen should have been so wary of employing a musician and composer who was renowned throughout Europe can only remain a point of speculation.  Perhaps it was due to his alleged Catholic affiliations at a time when Elizabeth was named as a sworn enemy of the Roman Church.  Perhaps because he was, like Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder, Thomas Morley and other traveling musicians of the time, a spy.  Probably it was due to Dowland’s penchant for expressing his opinion, for Elizabeth was reported to have said that he “was a man to serve any prince in the world, but was an obstinate Papist.”  We can perhaps stress the obstinate factor, since Elizabeth apparently had no trouble trusting well-known Catholic William Byrd.  Dowland did finally receive a court appointment after the publication of his fourth book of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace (1612), nine years after Elizabeth’s death. We may never know Elizabeth’s reason for deliberately refusing the acquisition of this particular jewel for her crown.

With so many “known unknowns” to consider, we turn to speculate on the training of the young John Dowland.  With scant information to clue us in as to the development of his ability in music, we must examine the typical training of young musicians of the Tudor era during a time of transition in sacred music.  The elaborate polyphonic settings of Latin liturgical texts were deliberately eschewed and even condemned as Puritans called for simpler congregational singing of the Psalms.

We know, however, that the route to training in playing instruments — rare, costly, and difficult to master and expensive to maintain — was through an education as a choirboy in functional music for liturgical purposes.  More on this topic in our next installment.

  1. Don’t forget the possibility of apprenticeship in a prosperous household, as seems to have been the case with Dowland’s son Robert, and with Daniel Bacheler apprenticed to his uncle Thomas Cardell, one of the Queen’s lutenists.

  2. Of course apprenticeship is a possibility, but family connections seem to be a prerequisite for such an advantage. It appears that Dowland’s family background was of the artisan class, and we don’t seem to have enough information to securely trace his parentage and demonstrate such a family connection. But nevertheless, the traditional and typical avenue for demonstration of a child’s musical ability was via training as a choirboy. Their services were necessary, even in spite of the trend towards congregational singing, and we’ll be pointing out some contemporary evidence in our next post.

  3. Dan permalink

    It would be interesting to know if there was any interaction between Dowland and Thomas Morley. (“Plaine and Easy Introduction to Practical Musick”). He certainly had a most thorough education in theory, harmony, counterpoint/polyphony & composition. And of course the art of singing- a completely indispensable requisite for a proper foundation in any musical education, just as much now as it was then, but perhaps more diligently observed in Dowland’s time.

    One tidbit we do have about his lute playing comes from (I believe) Stobaus, who mentions Dowland- among others- who learned thumb under/inside in his youth (presumably on 6 & 7 course lutes) but switched to thumb out, certainly by the early years of the 17th century when the lutes were enlarged to 10 tied frets and 9 courses, as designated in the “Varietie…”

    • There is some interesting speculation concerning the interaction between Dowland and Morley relative to the publication of Dowland’s books of ayres. Morley stepped into the enviable position of holding the monopoly on publishing music in 1596, the year Byrd’s monopoly expired. It’s no accident that Dowland published his first book the following year.

      It’s also no accident that Morley decided to publish a book of lute songs, in the same format as Dowland’s groundbreaking table format in 1600. Likewise, it’s no accident that Morley also set ‘I saw my Lady weeping’. There is a worthwhile article that illustrates some of the points of comparison between the two versions, and discusses the timing of publication (Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, “My Lady’s Tears: A Pair of Songs by John Dowland”, Early Music, Vol. 19, No. 2, May, 1991). The upshot is that Morley may have tied up Dowland’s second book (1600) to get his own book out first, and that he may have quickly learned how to adapt his keyboard style accompaniments for the lute – sort of – in order to take advantage of a potential market.

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