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8.570449 - DOWLAND, J.: Lute Music, Vol. 3 (North) - Pavans, Galliards and Almains
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John Dowland (1563–1626)
Lute Music • 3


A true genius in any artistic field is a rare thing. In the world of the lute, John Dowland most certainly qualifies for this accolade. Despite being a Catholic at the wrong time in English history and a man with a rather difficult complaining character, Dowland's genius still brought him praise and honour from his contemporaries. In a sonnet from 1598, the poet Richard Barnfield paid the most telling tribute to Dowland by writing 'Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch/Upon the lute doth ravish human sense'. From this, and from Dowland's music itself, we can sense that Dowland's inimitable qualities as a performer (of his own compositions) were the beauty of his tone coupled with an extraordinary ability to move the emotions of his listeners.

In our 21st century, Dowland is often remembered for his "Lachrimae" Pavan, and as a composer of melancholic music. This gives us, however, a very limited and unduly biased view of our "English Orpheus" because Dowland's music explores the complete range of human emotions with a unique blend of spirit, heart and intellect. The other qualities which are very much apparent are a wonderful melodic gift and a thorough, ingenious contrapuntal skill. While it is often virtuosic, Dowland's lute music is always natural and idiomatic. All of these qualities can be found throughout Dowland's canon of works which principally consists of about one hundred solo lute pieces, almost the same quantity of lute songs, with some consort pieces for viols and lute.

Shakespeare and John Dowland were exact contemporaries, born one year apart. Shakespeare, born in 1564, is known to have revised his works over many years but this does not diminish our admiration of his genius. Similarly, Dowland revised much of his music from year to year. Some lute pieces survive in as many as ten versions so it is impossible to define any as "the authentic one". The lute was a continuously developing instrument and Dowland would have begun his "luting" on an instrument with only six courses (pairs of strings) but would have played a nine or ten course lute in his maturity. Thus, we can trace Dowland's development side by side with that of the lute. Of course, the writing for the instrument tells us much, as does the history of each manuscript in which the music is found. More interesting evidence can be gleaned from the dedications which Dowland gave to many of his lute pieces. Patrons and courtiers, for example, often changed their names through marriage, they received new titles by Royal command, or they may also have gained a degree at one of the two English Universities. From all these directions, we can build a fairly clear chronological journey.

While borrowing ideas from the past, Dowland and Shakespeare were both extremely innovative in their creations. In Dowland's musical environment, it was perhaps more that the air was full of certain ideas, fashions and conventions and it was simply unavoidable to share or borrow from this collective. For Dowland this might have been in the form of a phrase, (such as the famous descending Lachrimae theme) or a way of working with a musical figure and its inherent rhetorical meaning. Through his lute music, Dowland's spirit remains as alive now as it was some four hundred years ago.

Pavans, Galliards and Almains

In 1597 Thomas Morley published his theoretical book A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke in which he confirms that the three main dances at this time were the Pavan, Galliard and Almain. Only two years later, in 1599, Anthony Holborne published a collection of dances scored for a consort of five instruments, entitled Pavans, Galliards and Almains. In 1604 John Dowland published his important Lachrimae or Seaven Teares scored for five viols and lute, which contains Pavans, Galliards and Almains. Sadly he did not leave us his own collection of dances for solo lute, so my inspiration for this third volume of Dowland's lute works was to imagine how Dowland might have compiled his own book of Pavans, Galliards and Almains for lute.

Morley describes the Pavan of his time as 'a kind of staid music ordained for grave dancing', the Galliard as 'a lighter and more stirring dance than the Pavan', and the Almain as 'a more heavy dance than this (fitly representing the nature of the people whose name it carrieth.)' While we cannot call the Pavan/Galliard/Almain group a proper suite of dances such as we find later in the seventeenth century, these three dances do make a convincing set. Though born from the true nature of the dances as Morley describes them, Dowland's dances for lute were, of course, mostly intended for playing and listening to and not especially for dancing. They became vehicles for musical expression in Dowland's hands.

Following the contemporary model, all of Dowland's surviving Pavans have three sections, often with varied repeats (or divisions) of each section. As in the opening Pavan "Solus cum sola", Dowland occasionally left the third section unornamented; in this case my instinct is to trust Dowland and play the third section twice without divisions. Some other Pavans, such as that for Dr Case, have come to us without any divisions; to these I have added divisions for all sections.

Dowland left us more Galliards than any other musical form and we may safely assume that it was his favourite dance form. Although overall his Galliards are considerably varied in their style and form, most on this disc conform to the usual three sections, each with divisions, such as we find in those dedicated to the Earl of Derby or Sir Robert Sidney. Two others are , however, strikingly unusual. The Battle Galliard was a piece that Dowland developed over the years, but all versions are in the form of variations. The Galliard itself is a simple three-part piece which is then treated to three sets of divisions, each one growing in complexity. The Galliard upon a Galliard of Bachelar takes the opening four bars of an original dance by Dowland's contemporary Daniel Bachelar and then branches off into its own world of great variety and fantasy.

Almost all of Dowland's surviving Almains can be heard here and they are amazingly nonconformist. While I like to keep Morley's description in mind when playing Almains, Sir John Smith, his Almain (in its version from A Varietie of Lute Lessons, 1610) is the most virtuosic and least Morley-like Almain, and is unusually in a variation form. The Almain, P. 51is found in only one manuscript, without title, and is very awkwardly written. It sounds like an arrangement of a consort piece or song, yet I have never been convinced that the arrangement is actually by Dowland. For these reasons I have reset the piece in another tonality to bring it to the level of Dowland's own idiomatic style. Another spirited and virtuosic Almain, for Sir Henry Guilforde, is only found in A Varietie of Lute Lessons where it is anonymous. It is now generally believed to be the work of Dowland and as such I included it here.

Dowland's music spread throughout Europe and some pieces are now only known to us from continental sources. The Schele Lute Ms., now in Hamburg, is a large collection dating from c.1613 – 1619 and it contains two of his most wonderful Pavans. While the divisions of both the Pavan "La mia Barbara" and "Pavana Johan Douland" may perhaps not be exclusively Dowland's, the core of both bear his hallmark. "La mia Barbara" is an extended work reminiscent of Sir John Langton's Pavan, and the "Pavana Johan Douland" has Dowland's unmistakable serious and melancholic character. "Pavana Doulant" printed by Johannes Mylius in 1622 is slightly more problematical. Mylius includes several other Dowland pieces in his collection, all in reliable versions which correspond closely to English sources. The divisions he gives in "Pavana Doulant", however, must be his own as they are clearly not in Dowland's style. By omitting the divisions and prudently editing the three basic sections, we can uncover another beautiful and serious work, obviously from the heart of the English John Dowland.

Nigel North, © 2007


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