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Saturday morning quotes 5.25: Dowland leads the way

November 7, 2015

Those of us interested in the more obscure corners of historical music from Elizabethan times owe a debt of gratitude to Edmund Horace Fellowes (1870 – 1951).  Fellowes unearthed, studied, transcribed and published an enormous amount of historical music, including Tudor Church Music, madrigals, and thirty-two volumes of English lute songs, making all available for further study by those who followed in his footsteps.  As is usually the case with those who lead the way, he got quite a lot of the details wrong, and his published “corrections” to the lyrics of lute songs inspired Diana Poulton to restore the originals, giving us a heightened sense of appreciation for the marriage of Tudor/Stuart language and music.

In the earlier stages of the 20th-century early music revival, the role of the lute was misunderstood and greatly underestimated and if we were to believe the thrust of most music history survey courses, the a cappella madrigal reigned supreme.  But historical scholarship is progressive, and those with a probing curiosity eventually come round to the facts.  It turns out that one of the better-known madrigal composers, Thomas Weelkes (1576 – 1623) was actually filching his ideas from our old friend John Dowland.

“Perhaps the most tangible evidence of Dowland’s skillful chromatic manipulation in The First Book of Airs is to be found in the solo song All ye whom love (I, 14). The many parallels between this air and Thomas Weelkes’ three-voice Cease sorrows now from the English madrigalist’s first publication, The Madrigals to 3, 4, 5 and 6 Voices is particularly noteworthy, and it is quite possible that Dowland’s work might have  served as a vital catalyst in Weelkes’ experimentation with conspicuous chromaticism in as early as around 1597.”

“As far as chromaticism is concerned, Dowland seems to have made some impression on Weelkes’ use of the device.Two of [Dowland’s] more serious airs from the First Book, Burst forth, my tears (I, 8) and Go, crystal tears (I, 9) probably paved the way for Weelkes’ use of expressive chromatic notes in My tears do not avail me (no. 23) from the 1597 publication and O Care, thou wilt despatch me from the 1600 publication…”

“In Cease sorrows now, Weelkes appears not only to have derived most of his ideas from Dowland, but also follows some of his harmonic organisation and tonal plan…This deep concern for selecting and ear-making of motivic figures for imitation may partly explain the rather segmented (and occasionally short-breathed) character of the piece. There are too many cadences and there is little of the flow and continuity of Dowland’s piece.”

“Cease sorrows now and All ye whom Love and Fortune are significant for being the first English compositions in print that contains expressive and extended chromatic writing. Indeed,it may not be too much to say that along with several other vocal and instrumental compositions of Dowland, their passionate utterance represent a new experience in English vocal music just before the turn of the century.”

– Kenneth K. S. Teo, “Dowland and “Cease Sorrows Now””, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 36, Fasc. 1/2 (1995), pp. 5-10.

One Comment
  1. Dan permalink

    I learned to read grand staff notation- and for more than just a “G” lute- because of the early editions of E.H. Fellowes, Lumsden, and a few others. Back in the bad old ancient days, when tab was thought not worth including once transcribed into REAL notation for PROPER musicians!

    But have to admit I am grateful to have been wrenched out of my 8ve treble staff “E” instrument guitar notation & the often wretched guitar arrangements of lute works, and forced me to acquire some music reading skills before tab. could have made a lazy illiterate out me.

    Guess there was a reason why I was drawn to Dowland’s material more than some of those others, too.

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