Dowland, John, great English composer and famous lutenist, father of Robert Dowland; b. probably in London, 1563; d. there (buried), Feb. 20,1626. In 1580 he went to Paris in the service of Sir Henry Cobham, but by 1584 he was back in England, where he eventually married. On July 8, 1588, he was admitted to his Mus.B. from Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1592 he played before the Queen. Unsuccessful in his effort to secure a position as one of the Queen’s musicians, he set out in 1594 for Germany, where he received the patronage of the Duke of Braunschweig in Wolfenbuttel and the Landgrave of Hesse in Kassel. He then went to Italy and visited Venice, Padua, Genoa, Ferrara, and Florence; in Florence he played before Ferdinando I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He then made his way home, returning to England in 1595. In 1598 he was appointed lutenist to King Christian IV of Denmark, remaining in his service until 1606. He then returned to England, where he became lutenist to Lord Howard de Walden. In 1612 he became one of the lutenists to King Charles I. Dowland was a foremost representative of the English school of lutenist-composers. He was also noted for his songs, in which he made use of novel chromatic developments; he treated the accompanying parts as separate entities, thereby obtaining harmonic effects quite advanced for his time.
The 1st Booke of Songes or Ayres offowre paries with Tableturefor the Lute… (London, 1597); The 2nd Booke of Songs or Ayres, of 2. 4. and 5. parts; With Tableturefor the Lute or Orpherian… (London, 1600); The 3rd and Last Booke of Songs or Aires… (London, 1603); Lachrimae, or 7 Teares Figvred in Seaven Passionate Pauans,….set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons, in fiue parts (London, 1604); songs in A Mvsicall Banquet (London, 1612) and A Pilgrimes Solace. Wherein is contained Musicall Harmonie of 3. 4. and 5. parts, to be sung and plaid with the Lute and Viols (London, 1612).
Dowland tr. into Eng. The Micrologus of Ornithoparcus (Andreas Vogelsang; London, 1609; modern ed. in Eng. and Latin, ed. by G. Reese and S. Ledbetter, N.Y, 1973); also with his son Robert, the Necessarie Observations Belonging to the Lute, and Lvte playing, by John Baptisto Besardo [Jean-Baptiste Besard] ofVisconti: with choise varietie of Lvte-lessons… (includes compositions by John Dowland; London, 1610). EDITIONS: These include E. Fellowes’s eds. of The 1st Book of Songs (London, 1920; rev. ed., 1965, by T. Dart), The 2nd Book of Songs (London, 1922; rev. ed., 1969, by T. Dart), The 3rd and Last Book of Songs (London, 1923; rev. ed., 1970, by T. Dart), A Pilgrimes Solace (London, 1924; rev. ed., 1969, by T. Dart), and 7 Hymn Tunes…Lamentatio Henrici Noel (London, 1934); P. Warlock, Lachrimae or 7 Tears…Transcribed from the original edition of 1605 (without tablature; London, 1927); T. Dart and N. Fortune, eds., Ayres for 4 Voices, in Musica Britannica (Vol. 6, London, 1953; 2nded., rev., 1963); D. Poulton and B. Lam, eds., The Collected Lute Music of]. D. (London, 1974).
E. D. Poulton, /. D.: His Life and Works (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972; 2nd ed., rev, 1982); M. Pilkington, Campion, D. and the Lutenist Songwriters (London, 1989).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
The British composer and lute virtuoso John Dowland (1562-1626) was the leading English lutanist composer of his time. A sensitive, original melodist, he found his forte in pensive song-soliloquys.
John Dowland was born in December 1562 near Dublin. Nothing is known of his early training. From about 1580 until sometime before July 1584 he served as a musician to Sir Henry Cobham, the English ambassador in Paris, and his successor, Sir Edward Stafford. In 1588 Dowland received his bachelor of arts degree at Christ Church, Oxford. Unable to obtain employment in England, possibly because he had been converted to Roman Catholicism in Paris, he visited the courts of Brunswick and Hesse and then traveled to Venice and Florence.
In 1597 Dowland received a degree from Cambridge. He still could find no employment in England, so he took a position at the court of Christian IV of Denmark, whom he served from 1598 until 1607. Apparently released for unsatisfactory service, he returned to England, where it seems that his renunciation of Catholicism opened doors formerly closed to him. He entered the service of Lord Walden. At last, in 1612, he was appointed a King's Musician for the Lutes at the court of James I. He held this position until his death in 1626 and was succeeded by his son, Robert.
Dowland's reputation as a composer rests chiefly on his four books of lute songs. These works may be performed as solo ayres with lute accompaniment or as part songs for four voices. In either arrangement the chief melodic interest lies in the top voice, a feature that gives the songs considerable historical significance.
The four song collections show Dowland's mastery of a new musical idiom, with a harmonic directness that cuts through the old polyphonic complexities. His handling of the lyrics was very sensitive, and he had a remarkable gift for beautiful and expressive melody. Such songs as "Come again, sweet love" and "Lady if you so spite me" exhibit his skill in the merry vein. A diametrically opposite character is to be found in the pathetic melancholy songs for which he is better known. The most expressive of these, such as "Sorrow stay," "I saw my lady weep," and "Flow my tears," relate in literary content as in melodic substance to Dowland's instrumental collection, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans (1605). The gently descending "Lachrimae" motive established its own tradition and was imitated not only by Dowland's contemporaries, but also by composers in the late 17th century.
Peter Warlock, The English Ayre (1926), discusses Dowland. Background material can be found in Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (1941); Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959); Jack A. Westrup, An Introduction to Musical History (1955); and Donald J. Grout, A History of Western Music (1960).
Poulton, Diana, John Dowland, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1982. □
Dowland, John (1563–1626)
Dowland, John (1563–1626)
English composer and lutenist known for the expressively moody, downcast style of his music. Dowland was born in London and studied musical composition at the University of Oxford. He became a lute player for the English ambassador to France, where Dowland converted to the Catholic faith. Later he performed at the court of Queen Elizabeth I but failed to win an appointment from the queen because of his loyalty to Catholicism, a snub that in the opinion of some historians brought about his embittered and melancholy musical style. He journeyed later to Denmark, where he became court lutenist to the Danish king Christian IV. He won an appointment as official court lutenist by King James I. He began publishing collections of pieces for voice and lute in 1597, eventually publishing four books of more than eighty songs. His most famous works are melancholy songs that set the subjects of death and loss to beautifully flowing and balanced melodies, and accenting these melodies with strikingly dissonant notes and chords. Dowland's personal motto was “Dowland, Semper Dolens,” a pun in Latin that means “Dowland, Always Doleful,” taken from the name of one of his songs. Flow My Tears, his best-known piece, became one of the most commonly performed works of Renaissance music in modern times. He also wrote complex polyphonic suites, dance music, and sets of variations for the solo lute, as well as Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, a piece based on Flow My Tears written for lute and five viols.
See Also: Byrd, William; music