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Saturday morning quotes 2.36: Dowland’s patrons

January 26, 2013

Today’s quotes mine the introductions to John Dowland’s published songbooks, and offer an historical perusal of his own words in the form of written dedications to his patrons.

We have remarked in past posts how today’s historians are modifying their view of how the Renaissance came to be.  The rising merchant class wanted to emulate the nobility by establishing a past, present and future, spreading their new wealth around and paying artists to create monumental works of art, architecture, literature and music in their honor.  It seems to have worked, and we still remember the Medici, the Borgias, and the Tudors, for better or for worse.

Quoted below are Dowland’s dedications written in his own words; a public display honoring the patrons who supported publication of his first three books of songs and a glimpse of insight into the composer’s set of values.

From the First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597), dedicated to Sir George Carey, Baron of Hunsdon

That harmony (Right honorable) which is skilfullie exprest by Instruments, albeit, by reason of the the variety of number & proportion of it selfe, it easilie stirs vp the minds of the hearers to admiration & delight, yet of higher authoritie and power hath been euer worthily attributed to that kinde of Musicke, which to the sweetnes of instrument applies the liuely voice of man, expressing some worthy sentence or excellent Poeme.

Besides your noble inclination and loue to all good Artes, and namely the diuine science of musicke, doth challenge the patronage of all learning, then which no greater title can bee added to Nobilitie.

From the Second Booke of Songes or Ayres (1600), dedicated to Lady Lucie Comptesse of Bedford

Excellent Ladie: I send vnto your Ladyship from the Court of a forreine Prince, this volume of my second labours: as to the worthiest Patronesse, of Musicke: which is the Noblest of all Sciences: for the whole frame of Nature, is nothing but Harmonie, as wel in the soules, as bodies:…

Your Ladyship hath in your selfe, an excellent agreement of many vertues, of which: though I admire all, Yet I am bound by my profession, to giue especiall honor, to your knowledge of Musicke: which in the iudgement of ancient times, was so proper an excelencie to Woemen, the the Muses tooke their name from it, and yet so rare, that the world durst imagin but nine of them.

From The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Airs (1603), dedicated to Iohn Souch Esquire

The estimation and kindnes which I haue euer bountifully receiued from your fauour, houe mooued me to present this nouelty of musick to you, who of al others are fittest it iudge of it, and worthiest out of your loue to protect it.  If I gaue life to these, you gaue spirit to me; for it is alwaies the worthy respect of others that makes art prosper in it selfe.

True today as it was 400 years ago, patronage is the one vital aspect of the arts that converts private pastime into public pleasure.   We see in today’s belt-tightening economic environment so much erosion in the support of the arts that it is time to mention that the measure of our culture is in the quality of what we bequeath to future generations.  Will our legacy be landfills full of discarded electronic gadgets that were designed for instant obsolescence?  Or will it be enduring works of art, literature, and music that will be remembered fondly by future generations?  We hope it will be the latter.

  1. I think the Souch reads “If I gaue life to these…”

  2. Whoops. Next time, I guess I’ll try my hand at inventing a new language after coffee.

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