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Saturday quotes 2.31 Dowland Part 9

December 22, 2012

“…Whether by Dowland or some other author the words [to ‘Flow my teares, fall from your springs’] are fitted to the melody with an exquisitely sensitive ear for the rhythm and rise and fall of the spoken word. “

– Diana Poulton (John Dowland, University of California Press, Berkeley, second edition, 1982, p. 257)

We end our series of informed speculations on the training and background of John Dowland with a video performance of possibly his best-known song, ‘Flow my teares, fall from your springs’.

Dowland’s famous song is built upon what we have come to call the ‘falling tear motif’, which is quoted in some form or otherwise woven into nearly all of his songs and solo lute music.  Dowland did not ‘compose’ the motif but rather used it as an aural ‘logo’ in his music.  One of many likely sources that Dowland may have drawn upon is Luca Marenzio’s four-part madrigal, ‘Piango che Amor‘ (1588), which also provided melodic and harmonic material for at least two other teary songs, ‘I saw my Lady weepe’ (1600) and ‘Flow not so fast yee fountains’(1603). You can hear our recorded performance of Marenzio’s madrigal ‘Piango che Amorhere, where the falling tear motif appears as the final notes of the cantus and is set to the word, pianto.

There are several things about our performance of ‘Flow my teares, fall from your springs’ that may be at odds with more typical interpretations.  First, we choose to interpret the piece as a song that draws the listener into the music; deliberately performed with a natural voice production and with a sense of improvisation in the lute accompaniment.  We feel the song deserves this more direct and communicative approach, as opposed to the more distant and detached treatment it receives as an ‘Art-Song‘.

Next, attentive listeners will notice that the music is pitched in a lower range, another intentional interpretive choice.  Again, we feel the music communicates much more effectively when the singer settles into a pitch range more appropriate to conveying the sense and spirit of the words, rather than using the music as a vehicle simply to showcase the beauty of those high notes.  This is not a new idea, and we are merely following historical precedent that places the actual musical performance first.

And finally, astute lutenists will observe that the facsimile score we use seems a little strange.  We have transposed the lute part, entirely intact with all the notes of the original.  This is not an attempt at forgery but rather a personal score that we enjoy using in performance.  We offer our personal score, which can be accessed here, as a Christmas gift to our friends and colleagues who may find some enjoyment in playing this sad song at a lower pitch.

In closing, we would like to applaud the efforts of music teachers everywhere, and we especially thank the Société Française de Luth for taking the time to focus on nurturing children and teaching them the joy of playing music, and we encourage all of our readers to do the same.

  1. Beautiful, as ever.

  2. Dan permalink

    Apologies that I cannot hear & appreciate your performance properly, (old Mac blew up, cheep new pc- speakers worse than bad)

    But totally concur with your approach to lute song interpretation. The tortured struggles of operatically trained & strained “classical” singers usually makes a mockery of these intimate works of “artless” high art. Some of them butcher good pop tunes in similar manner- kind of like imagining a rhinoceros doing ballet, or an 18 wheel semi trying to negotiate a tight parking spot.

    But that transposition is mind bending! Had to look at it several times to realize it that it’s not the original- but a trick of state-of-the-art satanic software? I have always had to fight over pitch with the Soprano to whom I am linked for all eternity; usually compromising between 440 & 392 with 415. Or painful amounts of barre chords. Can’t wait to show her this newly discovered copy of a previously unknown “edition”! One of the very few benefits of aging is that her voice has dropped by about a semi-tone over the decades.

    It would be great if you could find time to do a few more of the tunes like that

    Thanks for another fine start to the weekend- too wet to play outdoors, more music may happen.


  3. Beautiful performance.

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