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Saturday morning quotes 3.24: Dowland issue

October 26, 2013

Our selection of Saturday morning quotes includes just a few short snippets that can be found in the Dowland Anniversary issue of Early Music, v. 41, no. 2, May 2013. We urge our readers to follow the links and read the entire publication for a treasure trove of commentary by some of our more astute scholars and our best performers.  Or, if you are a musician, do like us and borrow a copy from a generous friend.  We quote from three articles in the issue and add our commentary.

Roger Savage, “This is the record of John: eight decades of Dowland on disc”, Early Music (2013) 41 (2): 281-294.

“…alas we have no record (in any sense) of Dowland singing, or even any certainty that he did sing.  Yet it is surely not far-fetched to suggest that in a performance for connoisseurs he would have wanted a voice that, beyond line and projection, was adept at adding decoration when the time was right (melodic decoration or decoration by vibrato): a voice too that was concerned to liase intimately with its instrumental partner or partners.”

– p. 292

Those who have read our survey of contextual evidence that informs us as to the training of a typical Elizabethan musician will guess that we might take issue with the first part of this statement.  One might say that we have no conclusive evidence that Dowland ever wore shoes, therefore he must have always performed with bare feet.  Realistically, we can safely say that if Dowland played an instrument, he undoubtedly was first trained as a singer.  The question should be framed to determine whether he was a notable singer, or even a good singer.  Although the very idea of whether vibrato was used as a decoration or otherwise seems gratuitous, we certainly agree that, in singing Dowland, a voice must meld intimately with the instrument rather than merely be proximate.

Hopkinson Smith, “‘Whose heavenly touch doth ravish human sense…’”, Early Music (2013) 41 (2): 295-297.

“We have all heard voices of such beauty and focus that, at first, our sensitivities seemed riveted to the sound. But after five or ten minutes, when no dynamism or intelligence guided and developed this sound, such voices lost their immediacy.”

– p. 295

We couldn’t agree more.  While projected singing dazzles and fills a room with its sound, a naturally-appealing voice used sensitively and to good advantage not only balances well with the lute, but simply suits the aesthetic of domestic lute songs of Dowland.

Nigel North, “Searching for Dowland”, Early Music (2013) 41 (2): 301-305.

“I have to ask myself, was Dowland more interested in ravishing our senses with his beautiful tone than playing at a dazzling speed? Again, my instinct agrees with [Richard] Barnfield, rather than the speed- and goal-oriented performances that we may hear in the 21st century where motivation seems often to be about playing fast and loud, and making a virtuosic impression. Many writers from the 16th century and later classify good musicians to be those that communicate with true rhetoric, moving the hearts and minds of the listeners.”

– p. 304

Hear, hear.

One Comment
  1. Thanks for the heads-up. And thanks for your sensible comments.

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