The reign of Elizabeth
I was a ‘golden era’ in music and in
arts in general. Many composers of religious
music, madrigals, keyboard and lute
music were active during the decades
around 1600. One of them was John Dowland,
whose main activity was playing the
lute. He made several attempts to being
appointed court lutenist, but all these
attempts failed. Dowland himself blamed
his catholic conviction for his misfortune.
This situation made
him decide to go abroad. He went to
Italy, Germany and Denmark. From 1598
to 1606 he was court lutenist at the
Danish court. In 1606 he was dismissed
and returned to England. Later that
year he was appointed as one of the
lute players at the court of James I.
But that was not the prominent position
he once had hoped for.
Considering his fame
as lutenist it comes as a surprise that
none of his lute compositions has ever
been published. An announcement – in
the First Booke of Songes – to publish
some of his ‘lute lessons’ was never
The Swedish lutenist
Jakob Lindberg has made a selection
from his complete recording of Dowland’s
lute music. He has devoted this disc
to the memory of the British musicologist
Diana Poulton (1903-1995), who has spent
an important part of her life to the
research of the life and works of John
Lindberg has made an
attractive selection, which includes
all the genres represented in Dowland’s
output. There are lute versions of well-known
songs, like ‘The Frog Galliard’ (Now,
O now I needs must part) and ‘Can She
Excuse’. We find dances like almain
and galliard here, which were very popular
at the time. Sometimes these dances
are connected to persons, like ‘Lady
Hunsdon’s Puffe’ or ‘Mrs. Vaux Jig’.
Some of these names reflect Dowland’s
activities outside England, like the
‘King of Denmark, His Galliard’. There
are also titles which appear in the
oeuvre of the English virginalists,
like ‘Walsingham’. Of course, some pieces
are so famous and so characteristic
for Dowland that they couldn’t be left
out. I am referring here to ‘Lachrimae’
and ‘Semper Dowland Semper Dolens’.
A remarkable piece
is ‘Farewell’, which starts with a rising
chromatic scale, very reminiscent of
keyboard pieces by Italian composers
of the early 17th century.
composition is ‘A Fantasie’, a beautiful
polyphonic piece in several sections,
one of which contains echo effects.
It is easy to imagine this piece to
be played on a keyboard instrument.
This is an ideal disc
for those who are not interested in
having all Dowland’s lute music on the
shelf, but would like to know some specimen
of it. And Jakob Lindberg is a quite
convincing and eloquent interpreter.
His phrasing and articulation are immaculate,
and his ornamentation stylish and tasteful.
The microphones have been put quite
close to the player which make you hear
him breathe. That can be distracting,
but in a way I like it: it is as if
he plays just for you.
Since this selection
is probably first and foremost aimed
at those who are no lute nuts and don’t
have an intimate knowledge of Dowland’s
lute music, it is a little disappointing
that Jakob Lindberg gives an interesting
account of Dowland’s life and a general
overview of his lute music, but doesn’t
explain those titles which refer to
persons most people will know nothing
about. And some titles are a little
mysterious, like ‘Tarleton’s Riserrectione’
or ‘Resolution’. An explanation, if
possible, would have been nice.
Johan van Veen