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Exploring Music: ''Ingenious Interlinking''/John Dowland /Lachrimae or Seaven Teares

The MHS Review 400 VOL. 12, NO. 4 • 1988

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David M. Greene


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Recently one of the big national magazines, 1 am told, proclaimed the "end of the '80s"--not the decade itself, which, the calendar indicates, has a couple of years to go, but the particular era of so-called civilization in which we have been living for some time. The back of the sleeve containing the source disc from which MHS 912158W derives may reinforce the notion: it is mostly devoted to a photograph of the Dowland Consort. It is made up of six attractive and youngish musicians. They are wearing what are recognizably clothes and they are almost smiling! For a generation now I have been cowed by endless photos of pop groups clad in outlandish garb (generally the sort of things worn by indigent mountaineers in my youth) and glowering at the onlooker as if he is to blame for the outrageous fees they demand. I hope the Dowlands portend friendlier times to come. And they play good too!

The canard that John Dowland was an Irishman and that his name was pronounced ''Doolan'' was long ago quashed. But neither does that name rhyme with the first name of Pogo's friend Howland Owl. Its owner evidently rhymed it with "Poland," and it provided him with endless excuses for punning. His motto (Latin), he said, was Semper Dowland, semper dolens: "Ever Dowland, forever grieving." No doubt there was some truth in it, too. For much of his career he felt that he was being unfairly ignored, that he "didn't get no respect." Never mind that he seems to have invited such treatment; he was, seemingly by nature, one of those characters well known in his era--a malcontent. As such persons were depicted in the literature of the age, they somehow failed to attain the eminence to which they thought themselves suited.

One expression of Dowland's dolens was a lute piece that he called Lachrimae (Tears). Diana Poulton suggests, in her liner notes for this record, that he may have found its chief motif in a French chanson by an obscure composer named Jean Caulery. (Dowland spent his youth at the English Emhassy in Paris.) The lute piece was an obvious hit, as its frequent appearance and quotation in contemporary manuscripts attests. In 1600 the composer, then working for the Danish king at Hamlet's "Elsinore" (Helsingors), did up a bundle of his songs and sent them to his wife in London to be published as his second such collection. One of the items in it was "Flow, my tears," an adaptation of the lute solo.

The third songbook came out in 1603 (the year of Queen Elizabeth's demise), and was followed later by the culminating appearance of Lachrimae: a collection for consort (five strings and lute) whose full title was LACHRIMAE, or Seaven Teares figured in seaven passionate Pauans, with diuers other Pauans, Galiards, and Almands, set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons in fiue parts. The pavan was a dance form that apparently originated in Padua a hundred or so years earlier. Alternated, as was common, with the more athletic galliard, it was a dance for the mature party goer. Jehan Tabourot ("Thoinot Arbeau") describes it as "easy"--two single steps, one double step forward and the same pattern backward. But he adds that the pavan is not necessarily danced: it is nice to play or to hear.

However "passionate" (or alliterative) Dowland's examples, he surely did not have the ballroom in mind. The seven pavans add up to a very complex whole. Besides the number symbolism, there is ingenious interlinking. The original lute piece (Lachrimae antiquae) is stated at the outset; then its motif forms the basis of a different instrumental part in each of the subsequent pavans-which are "New Old Tears," "Groaning Tears," "Sad Tears," "Forced Tears," "Lover's Tears," and "Real Tears." (Self-pity was ever the stuff of popular music!)

Except for a handful of miscellaneous pieces, the collection as a whole (amounting to thrice seven numhers!) accounts for all of Dowlaml's known consort music. A bonus in the release (on all three formats) is a set of footnotes identifying all of those obscure dedicatees, including Captain Digoric Piper, an English seaman who turned pirate and, having heen apprehended, was sentenced hy a judge named Julius Caesar.

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