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Saturday morning quotes 7.11: Lachrimæ II

August 31, 2018


We continue our examination of Dowland’s famous musical emblem as background to his publication, Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares, a collection of instrumental music for five viols or violin family instruments and lute published in 1604.

In our previous post we discussed Dowland’s source for the “falling tear” motif, and made a strong case for the final notes of the Cantus part of Luca Marenzio’s “Piango che Amoras Dowland’s source of inspiration.  Speculative sources for the motif have been proposed by Diana Poulton, Peter Holman and the estimable David Pinto, but we must insert a reality check: Although our lutenist/composer must have examined all the important music he could lay hands on, we find it difficult to imagine that Dowland would have been mucking about the Altus partbook of Lassus’ Penitential Psalms in the hope that a string of notes might leap out from the texture and serve as the very substance of his artistic persona.  Regardless of the deeper meaning he later imparted to the musical snippet, Dowland would have responded to something much more obvious and direct, and our proposal offers the clearest example of a source of the Lachrimæ motif.


As for Dowland’s use of the motif, we know that the Lachrimæ Pavan for solo lute came before his other elaborations of the piece, and Dowland’s biographer, Diana Poulton, identified the earliest version for solo lute in the first of the Cambridge lute manuscripts.

“The problem of the date of composition of the original Lachrimæ Pavan is bound up with the chronology of the Cambridge lute MSS…If the evidence is accepted which points to the year 1595 as a likely date for the completion of Dd.2.11, the earliest volume in the series, then we can say at least that the lute solo was in existence by that date as two copies of the piece, one in G minor and one in A minor, are found in this MS.”

Diana Poulton, John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 126.

In connecting the date of the source and the first appearance of Dowland’s use of the Lachrimæ motif, Marenzio’s important set of  Madrigali a quatto, cinqe e sei voci. Libro primo was published in 1588.  We have no idea of Dowland’s whereabouts from the time of his 1580 appointment as servant to Sir Henry Cobham, ambassador to France, up to 1592, when it is presumed he was returned to England and took part in an entertainment at Sudeley castle.  He may have remained in France with Cobham’s replacement, Sir Edward Stafford, or he may have returned to England.  In any event, we can tell from his treatment of French dance tunes and his setting in Italian that Dowland was certainly exposed to a variety of continental music during the 1580s, and he developed an ardent appreciation for the music of Marenzio.

From the article by Richard Freedman, “Marenzio’s Madrigali a quattro, cinque et sei voci of 1588: A Newly-Revealed Madrigal Cycle and Its Intellectual Context”, The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer, 1995), pp. 318-354.

“Luca Marenzio’s Madrigali a quattro, cinque et sei voci of 1588 is a compelling manifesto of Renaissance musical and literary sensibilities. In this book, the composer tells us, are new madrigals that aim “through the imitation of the words and the propriety of the style at a somber gravity [mesta gravitá] not encountered among his earlier works.  Indeed, the serious character of the book of 1588 is plain enough: Jacopo Sannazaro, Marenzio’s most favored poet prior to 1588, is represented by lyrics that avoid the sort of bucolic narratives typically found among Marenzio’s earlier selections from his writings. Marenzio’s approach to the lyrics carefully chosen for the book of 1588 is extraordinary, juxtaposing poems and parts of poems in a remarkable musical retelling of his own stylistic transformation.”

– p. 318.

“The genres and styles represented here retell an impressive tale of Marenzio’s musical development during the 1580s, when the changing claims of artistic patronage and academic audience led him to reconsider the “forbidden hopes” and “misleading thoughts” of Sannazaro’s pastoral vision.”

– p. 349.

In 1588 Dowland was 25 years of age and eager to make his mark among colleagues and patrons, and it makes sense that the young musician would grasp the depth of meaning in Marenzio’s new publication, and perhaps identify with Marenzio’s own quest to attain, at the same time, suitable patronage and a place of honor among the cognoscenti.  “Piango che Amor”, number three in Marenzio’s set, is a moving miniature masterpiece that aptly illustrates the theme of tears.  The final notes of the Cantus that evocatively depict the word “weeping” were likely burned into the young Dowland’s psyche, as the final notes of any piece are apt to do.

The debt of gratitude owed for the gift of this motif was likely a contributing factor for Dowland’s strong admiration for Marenzio’s music, and for his desire to take an unauthorized trip to Italy to meet his unknowing mentor in person—at the enormous risk of incurring the wrath of Sir Robert Cecil and his tightly controlled surveillance state.  More on Dowland’s abortive Italian journey and its consequences will be discussed in a later post in this series.

As mentioned earlier, the Lachrimæ Pavan in a setting for solo lute first turned up in hand-written manuscript form sometime before 1595.  The piece first appeared in print in William Barley’s A New Booke of Tabliture, published in 1596.  In a move reminiscent of today’s business model of Google and Spotify, Barley apparently helped himself to the piece and published without prior consent, and an irritated Dowland wrote in his address “To the courteous Reader” in The First Booke of Songes (1597), “There haue bin divers Lute lessons of mine lately printed without my knowledge, falce and vnperfect, but I purpose shortly my selfe to set forth the choisest of all my lessons in print…”

Dowland did not offer a collection of his music for solo lute until A Varietie of Lute Lessons was published in 1610, under his son Robert’s name.  In fact, only seven (or possibly eight) pieces in Varietie are actually by Dowland, and his public was compelled to be content with the pieces for lute appended to three of his four books of ayres.

The next printed appearance of Dowland’s treatment of Lachrimæ was in 1600.  According to Diana Poulton:

“In the Second Booke of Songs (1600) the vocal setting appears in the Table of Contents as ‘Flow my teares fall from your springs’.  In the body of the book it is, like all the other songs, headed with a number, but above the Cantus part and again above the Bassus, the word ‘Lacrime’ is printed.  This is the only occasion throughout Dowland’s song-books where a title other than the opening words of the poem is used.  Surely the intention is clear—’Here is a song to my already famous tune Lacrime’.  Had the song arrangement been made at an appreciably earlier date it is difficult to find any adequate reason for his having refrained from including it in The First Booke of Songes since he obviously regarded it as his greatest composition and, in 1597, no version of which he approved had appeared in print.”

– Poulton, p. 126.

“If it is agreed that the lute solo was composed before the song, then it seems certain that the words were written specially to fit the music, a practice in common use at the time, especially in the case of dance music.  It would be an extreme coincidence to find a poem, written independently of the music, that would fuse with it in such an exact unity.”

– Poulton, p. 255.

“Flow my teares fall from your springs” is Dowland’s most familiar song, and has been performed in recent years by a diverse selection of singers with a wide variety of approaches, from countertenor Andreas Scholl to pop star Sting.

“Could you say that Scholl is idiomatic where Sting is not? I don’t think so. Both styles seem to share that quality of having been invented for the purpose. Sting’s style was invented by Sting. Scholl’s style is a version of something invented by Alfred Deller.”

– James Fenton, “New tunes from an old lute,” The Guardian, Sat 14 Oct 2006

We close this post with our informal video recording: For those astute readers who may notice an oddity in the facsimile score, we refer you to an explanatory post from the past.

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