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Saturday morning quotes 7.13: Lachrimæ IV

Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, London 1612

“Hei mihi quod vidi”, Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, London 1612

This is the fourth in our series on John Dowland’s important work of instrumental music, Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares, published in 1604.  While the beauty and immediacy of the music is more or less easily grasped by performers and non-specialists alike, the order, the deeper meaning and the overarching concept of Dowland’s work has lain in obscurity for the past 400 years.  Just like many Shakespearean puns and allusions, a modern sensibility will admit the sounds but not comprehend their meaning let alone their context.  Fortunately, we have the benefit of the probing work of a few intrepid musicological explorers to guide us toward understanding.

David Pinto, known for his research and meticulous editorial work on sources of music for bowed instruments, has published along with lutenist Lynda Sayce a modern edition of Dowland’s Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares for Fretwork Editions (FE26: Lachrimæ by John Dowland, edited by Lynda Sayce with David Pinto).  But Pinto’s work extends far beyond the arrangement of notes on the page, and he has arrived at a convincing theory for the meaning of Dowland’s Latin titles for each of the seven Lachrimæ pavans.  We quote Peter Holman’s concise explanation of David Pinto’s interpretation.

“Recently, David Pinto has proposed an orthodox religious interpretation of the Latin titles, taking his cue from the connection between ‘Antiquæ’ and the Lassus Penitential Psalms.  He suggests that the tears are those of the penitent, starting with those caused by original sin (‘Antiquæ’), and the subsequent sins of fallen mankind (‘Antiquæ Novæ’).  His woes (‘Gementes’) and grief (‘Tristes’) force him into apostasy (‘Coactæ’).  But his penitent soul wakes to the love of God (‘Amantis’), and is redeemed by divine compassion (‘Veræ’). This is an attractive idea, not least because it helps to explain the enigmatic oxymoronic title ‘Antiquæ Novæ’, the ‘new old tears’.  He suggests that it refers to St. Augustine’s famous phrase ‘pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova’ (‘O thou Beauty both so ancient and so fresh’), a reference to the ‘old yet new’ beauty of God, the implication being that the ‘old-new’ tears represent the renewal of original sin in every fallen mortal.  His proposal also has an interesting autobiographical dimension: he implies that the penitent is Dowland himself, and that ‘Coactæ’ (literally ‘enforced tears’) is concerned with his moment of apostasy from his Catholic faith in the 1595 letter to Cecil.”

– Peter Holman, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604), Cambridge Music Handbooks, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 49.

In his article “Dowland’s True Tears,” The Lute, Volume XLII, 2002, David Pinto provides an astute description of Dowland’s 1595 letter to Sir Robert Cecil, tying together his interpretation of the letter’s contents and Dowland’s Catholicism.  We discuss the letter in more depth in our final post in this series.

While objectively outlining Pinto’s ideas, Peter Holman instead favors an interpretation of Dowland’s Latin titles based upon a broader look at the phenomenon of Elizabethan melancholy.  We have discussed the fashion of melancholy in the past, particularly in our popular post on the Willow Song.  But acknowledging that melancholy may arise from natural sources, when describing cause and effect, Dowland’s contemporaries did not secularize the phenomenon as modern commentators are prone to do.

In line with Pinto’s interpretation, Timothy Bright wrote in 1586 of the sort of melancholy that springs from religious guilt and prompts men to exceed their station in pursuit of that which they may believe God has withheld from them.

“I haue layd open howe the bodie, and corporall things affect the soule, & how the body is affected of it againe: what difference is betwixt natural melancholie and that heauy hande of God vpon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sinne, and feare of his iudgement…”

– Timothy Bright, “The Epistle Dedicatorie: To the Right Worshipful M. Peter Osbourne, &c.” A Treatise of Melancholie, published by Thomas Vautrollier, London, 1586.

A glance at Bright’s Table of Contents reveals his thoroughness in describing the outward symptoms of a melancholy condition.

Cap. 23. pag. 132. The causes of teares, and theire saltnes.

Cap. 24. pag. 135. Why teares endure not all the time of the cause: and why in weeping commonly the finger is put in the eye.

Cap. 25. pag. 148. Of the partes of weeping: why the countenance is cast downe, the fore-head lowereth: the nose droppeth, the lippe trembleth, &c.

Cap. 26. pag. 123. The causes of sobbing, and sighing : and how weeping easeth the hearte.

Cap. 27. pag. 157. How melancholye causeth both weeping, and laughing with the reasons how.

We consider this preoccupation with weeping and tears in light of the texts of Dowland’s songs to arrive at an interpretation of Dowland’s outlook, further reinforced by words from his own publications:

Nec prosunt domino, quæ prosunt omnibus, artes. (The arts which help all mankind cannot help their master), The First Booke of Songes or Ayres, 1597, title page.

Aut Furit, aut Lachrimat, quem non Fortuna beauit (Whom Fortune has not blessed, he either rages or weeps), Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares, 1604, title page.

It’s uncertain whether these inscriptions were the work of the author or the printer but in reference to the latter quote, we can say that Dowland both raged and wept.  To elaborate on the theme of religious melancholy, we quote a later and somewhat Puritanical source:

“Alas there are but few that finde the narrow way…and those few what are they? Not dancers, but mourners: not laughers, but weepers; whose tune is Lachrymae, whose musicke sighs for sinne; who know no other Cinqua-pace but this to Heaven, to goe mourning all the day long for their inequities; to mourne in secret like Doves, to chatter like Cranes for their owne and others sinnes.”

– William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix: The Players Scourge or Actors Tragaedie, E. A. and W. I. for Michael Sparke, London, 1633, p. 244.

Prynne’s words confirm the Tudor/Stuart world view, tying together religious melancholy and the ubiquitous familiarity of Dowland’s music and his meaning.

Peter Hauge offers a not necessarily contradictory overview of the artistic plan and contents of Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares.

“King of Denmarks Galiard – the first galliard which is named after Dowland’s master and brother of the new queen of Great Britain – is the centre of the whole collection. Two sets of Denaries – ten, the most perfect and universal number – are placed on each side of the piece, giving the impression of the king, not as an ordinary earthly man, but as a very special and supreme person among all the dedicatees.”

“The number seven has a special meaning as it is composed of three, signifying Trinity and the universe, and four, symbolising the elemental world. Seven is also the unification of the intellectual (mind) and physical (body) worlds…It is tempting to suggest that the entire collection corresponds to the three distinct realms of the christianised Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology popular in the Renaissance:

1. The seven Lachrimæ pavans (nos. 1-7) correspond to the supercelestial sphere above the planets (the abode of God), which was believed to be constant, orderly, and eternal;
2. the titles of address (nos. 8-14) correspond to the planets;
3. the last seven pieces (nos. 15-21) correspond to the inferior and terrestrial world, often described in terms such as inconstancy, corruption, and generation.”

“It seems most likely that Dowland, the composer, editor and publisher, was very conscious of the way in which he compiled the volume of music, creating sections and placing the movements in a specific order. He employed symbolism and allegory to create an entity, suggesting a hidden meaning in the same way as the universe contained secret knowledge. One is tempted to conclude that this collection of music is a microcosm – that is, an image of the “true and real” universe (macrocosm) – containing a proper Platonic correspondence: as Apollo, the sun, is the centre of the universe, Christian IV is the centre of Dowland’s universe – and of his creation: his most important volume of music.”

– Peter Hauge, “Dowland’s Seven Tears, or the Art of Concealing the Art,” Danish Yearbook of Musicology 29 (2001), ppg. 13 -15.

With apologies for an abrupt ending, we close for today in order to rehearse.  We continue our series next week with more on Dowland’s Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares.

Saturday morning quotes 7.12: Lachrimæ III


“Hauing in forren parts met diuers Lute-lessons of my composition, publisht by strangers without my name or approbation; I thought it much more conuenient, that my labours should passe forth vnder mine owne allowance, receiuing from me their last foile and polishment; for which consideration I haue vndergone this long and troublesome work, wherein I haue mixed new songs with olde, graue with light, that euery eare may receiue his seuerall content.  And as I had in these an earnest desire to satisfie all, I do like-wise hope that the peruser will as gratefully entertaine my endeauours, as they were friendly meant…”

– John Dowland, “To the Reader”, Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares…, 1604.

We begin this the third in our series on John Dowland’s Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares with the voice of the man himself.  There is much to be gleaned from Dowland’s words.  While the composer was likely pleased with the widespread distribution of his lute solos, he was unhappy that his music was published in embarrassingly corrupt form, and thought it worth the trouble to supervise publication of his work.

It is also very interesting to note that Dowland considered the lute parts to be finished versions of his work.  If we embrace this concept and procede by regarding Dowland’s work in the same light as the 19th-century model of masterworks from the iconic composers who would not tolerate the merest deviation from their score, we’re in a bit of a pickle.  But a fact that many performers miss today is that functional dance music of Dowland’s time, was meant to be repeated ad nauseam to serve the needs of the dancers, and it’s just plain silly to think that improvisation would not take place.  Excluding for the moment the seven Lachrimæ pieces in the publication, the lute parts simply offer an outline of each particular composition and, following the performing conventions of the time, it is presumed that Dowland was saying, “These are the correct notes and the proper harmonies, now do what you will.”

The cycle of seven Lachrimæ pavans that open the publication is a different kettle of fish.  We believe the lute parts for this cycle of pavans composed on the “falling tear” motif to represent the result of Dowland’s “last foile and polishment”.  And, we might add, these are not works that lie particularly well under the fingers, but works that require a deep understanding, a keen ear, and a deft hand to perform well.  These are works that require a long and thoughtful familiarity to tease out their meaning, to fathom the larger plan Dowland had in mind, and to discern the unique individual character of each piece.

We defer to summary descriptions and speculations from the specialists.

“With the publication of Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares in 1604, Dowland again presented English music-lovers with something quite new.  Music specifically written for five viols, or violins, and lute had never before appeared in England.  All the parts in the same volume are disposed on the open folio, after the pattern of the four-part ayres in the song books, so that each player had his part clearly visible as a group sat round a table with the book placed in the centre.”

Diana Poulton (John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 342.

“All twenty-one pieces are written for five viols, or violins, and lute, but the slight ambiguity in the description of the contents, on the title-page, as being ‘set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violins, in fiue parts’, has opened the way for a theory, held by some groups of viol players, that if the five bowed instruments are present the lute is unnecessary.  In support of this idea the fact is put forward that the lute doubles at least four of the parts throughout the majority of the pieces and, in particular, the doubling of the Cantus by the lute is cited as being both unnecessary and objectionable.  I am convinced this whole argument is incorrect and that the lute is essential to a satisfactory performance.”

“Careful examination of the score shows an infinite variety of devices are used in the lute part, each of which makes its individual contributions to the texture…At times an entirely independent voice occurs on the lute which does not coincide with that of any of of the bowed instruments.  Furthermore decorative figures are used to embellish the line both of the melody and the bass as well as of one or other of the inner parts.”

– Poulton, p. 345 – 346.

“The seven pavans that begin Lachrimæ are among the best-known and best-loved pieces of instrumental music written before the eighteenth century.  Their serene beauty speaks for itself, yet they also raise many questions.  Why are there seven of them?  How are they related? Do they contain ideas borrowed from other composers?  Were they intended to be performed as a cycle?  What is the significance of the Latin titles? Do they [the titles] have any bearing on their musical character?  How does the cycle exemplify the Elizabethan cult of melancholy?”

– Peter Holman, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604), Cambridge Music Handbooks, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 36.

“…It is interesting that Dowland gave his pavan the title ‘Lachrimæ’, ‘tears’, and the cycle the subtitle ‘seaven teares’. In Elizabethan literature tears were normally expected from women, children and old men, and were associated with moderate emotion…But in some circumstances it was acceptable for men to weep in a religious situation.  Indeed, their tears could be thought of as an emblem of their status as a pentinent before God, as John Donne put it: ‘Powre new seas in mine eyes, so that I might / Drowne my world with my weeping earnestly, / Or wash it, if it must be drown’d no more’.  There were biblical precedents: David wept for his son Absolom, Peter wept over his betrayal of Jesus, and of course, Jesus wept for Lazarus.  There is no reason to think that ‘Lachrimæ’ is specifically a portrait of female tears, so it is likely that the pavan had some religious significance for Dowland, as the connections with the Pennitential Psalms imply.”

– Holman, p. 48.

“Lachrimæ is isolated as a seven-fold pavan cycle: not a suite form, renaissance or baroque.  Internal evidence (we have little else) shows that it was a private riddle to its dedicatee, if it also seems from its preface (as Peter Holman emphasises) that other contents had been scored for a Danish court ensemble.  Dowland was a masterful handler of pattern within form, but his septenary design is no dance structure and must have external references.  That in turn points to texted, probably non-secular sources: which by default narrows the field to models in Christian liturgy or domestic piety.”

– David Pinto, “Dowland’s True Tears,” The Lute, Volume XLII, 2002, p 11.

The seven Psalmi pœnitentialis referenced by Holman and Pinto as possible models for Dowland’s Seaven Teares include texts from Psalm 6 – Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me (Pro octava); Psalm 31 – Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates; Psalm 37 – Domine ne in furore (in rememorationem de sabbato); Psalm 50 – Miserere mei, Deus; Psalm 101 – Domine, exaudi orationem meam; Psalm 129 – De profundis clamavi; and Psalm 142 – Domine, exaudi orationem meam.

Both Holman and Pinto look to the polyphonic settings by Orlande de Lassus, Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales (1584), as Dowland’s direct inspiration for the Seaven TearesLassus’ musical settings are attractive in the extreme, as is the idea of Dowland’s use of them for a model.  But while the form and meaning of the Psalmi Poenitentiales would have resonated with Dowland’s preoccupation with the theme of religious penance, there is a distinct absence of firm evidence for Dowland’s exposure to the music of Lassus, and the connection must remain speculative.

The Penitential Psalms were translated into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Sir Philip Sidney, and Dowland surely had access to these translations.  Significant evidence that Dowland was in fact preoccupied with the Penitential Psalm texts in English lies in his four-voice settings of Psalms, “Domine ne in furore”, “Miserere mei Deus, “De profundis” and Domine exaudi orationem meam”, which were distributed in manuscript form as Lamentatio Henrici Noel (1597)These four texts, along with three additional canticles comprise Dowland’s set of seven compositions dedicated to his patron Henry Noel after his untimely death in 1596, and Diana Poulton proposed that this music was performed at Noel’s funeral.  A modern edition of the Lamentatio Henrici Noel edited by Ron Andrico, including the original four-voice settings in English and additional arrangements for solo voice and lute, is available from the Lute Society.

We delve a bit more deeply into the possible meaning of Dowland’s Latin titles for the Lachrimæ pavan cycle in the next installment of our series.

Saturday morning quotes 7.11: Lachrimæ II


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 each 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.

Saturday morning quotes 7.10: Lachrimæ


We have already written an in-depth series on the possible musical background and training of John Dowland (1563 – 1626). This is the first of a few posts focusing on Dowland’s Lachrimæ motif in general and the 1604 collection of instrumental music in five parts in particular.

Lachrimæ is quite literally John Dowland’s signature composition, and the composer’s musical depiction of falling tears has spawned a great deal of anachronistic speculation concerning his psychological profile.  Dowland may not have left clear language describing the deeper meaning of his descriptive titles when he published the instrumental collection, Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares Figvred in Seaven Passionate Pauans, with diuers other Pavans, Galiards and Almands, set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons, in fiue parts. But the clues are there for anyone able to examine the historical evidence with an understanding of music, literature, and the ever present element of religious practice common to the age in which he lived.  Also required is an open-minded resistance to skewing that evidence to support a 21st-century point of view.

As in the rest of Europe, the Elizabethans made extensive use of allegory. The arts were often suffused with Neoplatonic-Hermetic doctrines and, in particular, the popular Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology. In this way the Elizabethan poets, visual artists and architects experimented and sought new modes of expression and to place man within the laws of the cosmic universe. Numbers and intervals, for example, were interpreted as the manifestation and result of the ideas emanating from the divine creator, and by studying numbers, the philosophers thought it possible to achieve divine knowledge of the correspondence between the universe (macrocosm) and man (microcosm). Influenced by the melancholic temperament (especially love melancholy), art was believed to be conceived through a divine inspiration of which God was the ultimate source.

– Peter Hauge, “Dowland’s Seven Tears, or the Art of Concealing the Art,” Danish Yearbook of Musicology 29 (2001), ppg, 10–11.


The speculative source of Dowland’s falling tear Lachrimæ motif is a matter that must be addressed as a starting place.  If we approach Lachrimæ as a “masterwork” composition that emerged from the tormented soul of a tortured genius, as many researchers working in the 19th-century tradition have done so far, we are off on the wrong foot altogether.  The motif was certainly not composed by Dowland, but rather taken on by Dowland as a emblem.  Found in many earlier sources, the falling tear motif very likely symbolized an appealing identifiable affect to Dowland, and also just what we suppose it symbolized from our modern standpoint. This writer has encountered the same motif in sacred music by Obrecht and Morales, in frottole by Tromboncino, in a recercar by Francesco da Milano.

Other prominent musicologists have attempted to tease out an oblique reference to the motif buried in the texture of music by near contemporaries of Dowland, but probably the clearest and most direct earlier quotation of the motif was mentioned several years ago in these pages.  Luca Marenzio’s “Piango che Amor (Madrigali a quatto, cinqe e sei voci. Libro primo, 1588) seems to have been an inspiration for Dowland on more than one level, providing 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).  The falling tear motif is present in the most obvious and memorable fashion as the final notes of the cantus in Marenzio’s madrigal, set to the word, pianto (weeping).  Our performance of the madrigal in an historically appropriate arrangement for solo voice and lute may be heard here.

Dowland lived in an age and worked in a milieu where an upwardly mobile composer/musician absolutely needed to create a persona that exuded erudition, and develop a mystique that piqued interest.  The courtly life to which Dowland aspired was populated by highly educated, exceedingly clever and extremely ambitious gentlemen who were constantly contriving layers of meaning in every gesture and each utterance.  The same could be said of the musician’s stock and trade: Improvising a contrapuntal fantasia that might interweave snatches of recognizable melody was the direct equivalent of improvising a sonnet on a particular theme employing commonly understood metaphors.  The difference that gave the musician an edge is that dance was ubiquitous at court, and composers like Anthony Holborne (c. 1545 – 1602) needed to maintain a constant output of new dance tunes, each one poised to be the next smash hit.

Holborne’s 1599 publication of dance music Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs, both grave and light, in five parts was surely the model for Dowland’s later set.  Dowland looked to Holborne as an example of a successful commoner who, through his skill in arranging ensemble dance tunes adorned with clever titles, attained a coveted position of “gentleman and servant to her most excellent Majestie.”  Dowland dedicated the first song in his Second Booke, “I saw my lady weepe,” to Holborne, followed by Dowland’s own most enduring song for voice and lute based on the Lachrimæ theme. We leave you with a video of our performance of “Flow my teares fall from your springs,” and a promise of much more to come on the subject.

Saturday morning quotes 7.9: Authenticity redux II


With a minimum of fanfare we breathe a puff of air on the faint embers of our series of quotations and rekindle the flame with words of wisdom from Gustav Leonhardt (1928 – 2012), drawn from his essay “On the Use of Original Instruments” found on a seminal recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.  When this recording was made in 1977, the term “authenticity” was bandied handily about, mostly by enthusiastic new converts in reaction to lush romantic performances of early works by modern performers on modern instruments employing 20th-century interpretive ideas and instrumental techniques. This reaction against the status quo represents the true foundation of the modern early music revival.

When Leonhardt refers to “original instruments”, it turns out that he meant it.  Nearly all of the stringed instruments used for the Bach recording were in fact historical instruments restored to good playing condition.  Understanding how the sound of old instruments defined the shape of historical music was a crucial step towards intelligent interpretation.  But probing deeply beneath the surface, Leonhardt prepared the path that led to an understanding of the aesthetics of historical music, and we constantly echo his sentiments here on this forum.

“If one is convincing, what is offered will leave an authentic impression.  If one strives to be authentic, it will never be convincing.  It is only by trying to penetrate the world of ideas of a great mind and of his age that a performer—speaking quite generally— can, if he has acquired sufficient technique and himself has the secret of talent, give the impression of presenting something true and genuine.”

“The rendering of a piece of music can, however, never be authentic, since the music itself refused to be tied down.  Music is not the written notes, but the sounds.  Even the composer gives a new authenticity to every performance of his work.”

“It seems to me that the conflict between authentic and unauthentic (who could possibly judge?) is less important that the question of artistic quality, which is hard to put into words (le cœur a ses raisons…), on this point one can only leave the public to judge— though the public, like musicians, will change.  (Some shortcomings must occasionally be attributed to the fact that this change is not synchronized—and it is not always the musicians who take the lead…!)”

– Gustav Leonhardt (English translation by Robert Jordan), notes to Johann Sebastian Bach, The Six Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046 – 1051, Seon Musikfilm, 1977.

Leonhardt’s approach to authenticity can be directly applied to the lute revival; a world unto itself where perfectionists congregate and argue with certainty all the details of “authentic” performance.  But it seems the loudest voices confine themselves to details concerning the physical attributes of the instrument, its stringing, and the disposition of the hands in play.  Since my first contact with the lute, I (RA) have been baffled by the cult of correctness in the physical disposition of the instrument (which surely was never standard) among revivalists, yet very few are actually interested in exploring the ample historical contextual information that describes the frame of mind necessary to embrace the surviving music for the lute.

A case in point may be found in Thomas Robinson’s The School of Musicke, perfectly teaching the true fingering of the Lute, Pandora, Orpharion, and Violl de Gamba, with most infallible generall rules, both easie and dellightfull. London, 1603.  As the title promises, there is abundant information for applying fingers to strings, as well as an interesting collection of “lessons” that both highlight aspects of technique and please the ear.  But Robinson begins his dialogue with important information that describes the frame of mind essential to approaching the lute.

Like other contemporary instruction books, Robinson casts his information “Dialogue wise, betwixt a Knight, (who hath children to be taught) and Timotheus, that should teach them.”  The Knight expresses that “In mine opinion, I think it impossible to be a good Musition except a man be seene in all the seauen liberall Sciences,” to which Timotheus responds at length on the qualities of a person who would be a good musician.

“Timotheus…First he must bee a diuine, that is, he must be diuinelie giuen, he must aboue all things serue God, that God may blesse him, in all his good indeuoures; hee must read the scriptures, for it is the fountaine of all knowledge, & it teacheth the diuine hamonie of the soule of man: for Musicke is none other then a perfect harmonie…”

– Thomas Robinson, 1603

This is important historical contextual information that many, in this ardently secular age, will choose to lightly consider or file away as a curiosity.  But it is in fact poor scholarship to ignore important historical contextual information because it may not fit with a modern sensibility.  Without proselytizing, it is plain as day that music had (and has) a significant spiritual dimension, and in order to experience the depth of music as the old ones did, it is necessary to embrace that spiritual dimension.  If we choose to disregard this important contextual information, how can we possibly deliver a convincing performance?

Robinson’s dialogue also touches on what he thinks is not necessary to make a good musician, telling us there is no need for doctors when music has such curative powers.

“And thus…I conclude the necessitie of diuinitie in a Musition.  Now that a Musition should bee a [Physician], I see no such necessitie, But that Musicke is Phisical, it is plainlie seene by those maladies it cureth.  As it cureth melancholie; it much preuaileth against madnesse; If a man be in paines of the gout, of any wound, or of the head, it much mittigateth the furie thereof: and it is said, that Musicke hath a salue for every sore.”

– Thomas Robinson, 1603




Saturday morning quotes 7.8: Tied score

1002-egyptian-scroll-028Our last two posts featured tracks from one of two upcoming CD releases we have planned for this year.  But occasionally we pause and ask ourselves a few meaningful questions concerning the early music racket: Why do we bother with a re-creative art like early music?  What exactly is our motivation?  What do we hope to gain by indulging in an art form that fits so uncomfortably with today’s prevailing modern cynical sensibility?

Regardless of genre, style or focus, modern day musicians must view old music through a telescope that extends from the present into the past. While the lens may briefly register notable events as it expands along its prescribed path to the past, the narrow tube effectively shuts out all contextual elements the viewer does not wish to observe.  In this manner, early music revivalists have managed to re-create a modified past as they wish to see it, picking and choosing all the traits that happen to fit their desired description.  This reformed concept of history invariably finds its way onto the modern concert stage, and today’s audiences are sold a brand of early music that never really existed, with modes of performance that our ancestors surely never experienced.

Sixteenth-century musicians approached music quite differently from modern early music revivalists.  For the professional, music was not a pastime that filled the spare hours and offered a pleasant diversion, but instead music was seen as an essential element in daily life.  Work as a musician performing functional music did not typically bring recognition, nor did it result in exceptional remuneration for most of the rank and file.  A musician was trained first in singing and composing, and then directed this informed attention to instrumental music.

Modern day musicians who specialize in early music must countenance the fact that participation in a re-creative art requires extraordinary insight into the contextual details of the particular era if he or she wishes to capture the true spirit of the music.  And effective performance demands an understanding of how music, culture, and events from ensuing centuries have crept into our consciousness and influence our perceptions.  A very tall order.

Today’s quotes are from Anne Smith, The Performance of 16th-Century Music: Learning From The Theorists, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, from the chapter entitled “Part-book Versus Score Culture.”

“I think that it is very difficult for us to imagine what it was like without readily available printed material.  Just as a small example, I can recall a time when photocopying was not a particularly attractive alternative to making excerpts by hand: The copies were expensive, they faded when exposed to light, and were on paper that smelled funny.  You only copied what was absolutely necessary and did everything else by hand.  And in some way I do regret that this era has passed because I know I learned a lot from the process of writing things out by hand and implanted them in a different way in my memory.  How much greater the difference then between having the possibility of mass-producing music—even if the printings were comparatively small by today’s standards—and exclusively limited to what one could notate by hand.”

“At the same time I am convinced that we will not get to the heart of the music if we do not approach it in the same way, from the individual parts, allowing their flowing together, their confluence to create the whole.  To do so means we have to start playing from the parts, often probably even memorizing them.  Experience has shown that the product is consistently of a higher quality.”

– Anne Smith, p. 18.

While hobbyists amass terabytes of music scores to store on their ipads, even playing from the strangely glowing backlit screens, those of us who care deeply about the aesthetics of historical music know that an effective and moving performance that honors the past demands our participation in the tactile experience of the music.

Saturday morning quotes 7.7: Sighs & tears

uec_fr_paris_louvre_saint_peter_weeping_before_the_virgin_barbiereFollowing our theme of English songs for solo voice and lute, and on the heels of last week’s introduction of William Byrd’s “Susanna faire“, today we feature our new recording of John Dowland’s “If that a Sinners sighes be Angels foode” from his final book of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace, published in 1612.

Dowland (1563 – 1626) and William Byrd (c. 1540 – 1623) were essentially of two different generations, and neither composer particularly benefits from a comparison of their respective styles. Dowland, with his idiosyncratically instrumental approach to part-writing, was more a composer of songs for the very satisfying combination of solo voice and lute, while the bulk of Byrd’s output is sacred vocal polyphony.  But the adaptations of Dowland’s lute songs for an ensemble of four or five voices can at times be sublime, and some of Byrd’s magisterial motets can at times display the tuneful cantus necessary for an effective lute song.

“If that a Sinners sighes be Angels foode” was set by Byrd in five parts and published in Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie, London, 1588, (no.30). Both Diana Poulton (John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 307) and Edward Doughtie (Lyrics from English Airs, 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 615-616) agree that Dowland was likely to have been familiar with Byrd’s setting published twenty-four years earlier.   But Dowland chose to set only the first of five verses, with a few minor modifications to the words.

“The tears of those repenting are the wine of angels.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux

The experts are silent as to the source of the text, but with the combined themes of St. Peter, repentance, and sighs and tears, the poetry suited Dowland quite well. The anonymous Elizabethan poet took inspiration from a quote by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), a well connected French abbot and reformer of Benedictine monasticism.  Bernard was a major exponent of the Cistercian order, also known as Trappists.  We won’t speculate here, but with Bernard’s historical role in healing the great schism in the Church, his connection to the Second Crusade, and as apologist for the Knights Templar, his words must have held special significance for both Byrd and Dowland.

For those who aren’t intimately familiar with historical performance practice, we’ll pause for a moment and address the question of performing Byrd’s music in our format of solo voice and lute.  Over the years, we have arranged a mountain of 16th century vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute, but we are in no way plundering repertory that was only ever intended to be performed a cappella.  Arranging vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute was quite common in historical practice, particularly so in English recusant households where performing resources were limited and where one did not draw attention to the subject of religious beliefs.

As for historical precedent, we quote Stewart McCoy from his article, “Edward Paston and the Textless Lute-Song”, Early Music, Vol. 15, No. 2, Plucked String Issue (May, 1987), pp. 221-227.

“In his will, the English music collector, amateur musician and master of the ‘liberall sciences’, Edward Paston (1550-1630), left a considerable manuscript collection that reflects his wide-ranging musical tastes and is important, not least, for being the sole source of many compositions by William Byrd…There are five lutebooks, all in Italian tablature, from which, in practically every piece, the highest voice (or, occasionally, voices) has been omitted.”

– McCoy, p. 221

“The contents of some of Paston’s manuscripts, the established practice in England of solmizing or singing without ‘the dittie’, and the fact that no instrument other than the lute is mentioned in connection with Edward Paston, together suggest the existence of a hitherto undefined genre: the textless lutesong. Included in this category are the fantasias of Byrd and White, the In Nomines of White, Tallis, Taverner, Strogers and Parsons, and possibly even songs which would normally carry a full text. Examples of all these pieces, in which all the parts would have been sung to the accompaniment of a lute, are included in Add.29246. Of course, none of them would originally have been composed as lutesongs, but Paston, it seems, would have performed them as if they were.”

– McCoy, p. 227

We add a few words of clarification. 1) Even in cases where the original cantus part books in the Paston collection do not survive today, they were surely present and used in making the arrangements for the lute to play the lower parts, so we need not presume the music was originally sung without text in the cantus part.  2) The lute notation need not be regarded a means of performance only.  For the cognoscenti, lute notation is a condensed score, a reservoir of information that can be reconstituted as separate parts as necessary.

For historical examples of arrangements for the lute to play all parts except the cantus, we refer to a manuscript that is part of the Paston collection, British Library Add. MS. 31992.  This particular manuscript book includes lute intabulations for most of the contents of Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie, as well as many titles from his 1589 Songs of sundrie natures.  This was the historical source for our recording of Byrd’s “Susanna faire” (f.18), and was likewise the historical source for our recording of Victoria’s “Alma Redemptoris Mater” (f. 66), featured on our CD, Magnum Mysterium.  Another of the Paston manuscripts was the source for our earlier recording of Victoria’s “Ne timeas Maria” (British Library Add. Ms. 29246, f. 32), which we discussed at some length in a previous post.

Byrd’s setting of “If that a sinners sighes” (Yf that a synners’ f. 28) is a piece we will tackle another day.  We perform Dowland’s wonderful setting with accompaniment on a bass lute with our characteristic attention to the pulse, imparting a vocal character to the bass line and interplay with the inner parts. Dowland dipped into his ample bag of tricks for this piece, and we are rewarded with several syncopations, suspensions, spicy dissonances, and expressive rests to enhance the poetry.  However the song is too short for our taste, and our recording rounds it out by adding the fifth and final verse from Byrd’s setting of the poetry.

You may hear and download our recorded version of Dowland’s setting here.