John Dowland

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John Dowland[a] (c. 1563 – buried 20 February 1626) was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep", "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe", "Now o now I needs must part", and "In darkness let me dwell". His instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

Title page of 1604 Lachrimae

Career and compositions


Very little is known of Dowland's early life, but it is generally thought he was born in London; some sources even put his birth year as 1563. Irish historian W. H. Grattan Flood claimed that he was born in Dalkey, near Dublin,[1][b] but no corroborating evidence has been found either for that or for Thomas Fuller's claim that he was born in Westminster.[2] One piece of evidence points to Dublin as his place of origin: he dedicated the song "From Silent Night" to 'my loving countryman Mr. John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin in Ireland'. The Forsters were a prominent Dublin family at the time, providing several Lord Mayors to the city.[c]

In 1580 Dowland went to Paris, where he was in service to Sir Henry Cobham, the ambassador to the French court, and his successor Sir Edward Stafford.[3] He became a Roman Catholic at this time.[4] Around 1584, Dowland moved back to England and married. In 1588 he was admitted Mus. Bac. from Christ Church, Oxford.[5] In 1594 a vacancy for a lutenist came up at the English court, but Dowland's application was unsuccessful. He claimed his religion led to his not being offered a post at Elizabeth I's Protestant court, but his conversion was not publicised, and being Catholic did not prevent some other important musicians (such as William Byrd) from a court career.[3]

From 1598 Dowland worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark,[6] though he continued to publish in London.[7] King Christian was very interested in music[8] and paid Dowland astronomical sums; his salary was 500 daler a year, making him one of the highest-paid servants of the Danish court.[9] Though Dowland was highly regarded by King Christian, he was not the ideal servant, often overstaying his leave when he went to England on publishing business or for other reasons.[8] Dowland was dismissed in 1606[8] and returned to England;[9] in early 1612 he secured a post as one of James I's lutenists.[10] There are few compositions dating from the moment of his royal appointment until his death in London in 1626.[11] While the date of his death is not known, "Dowland's last payment from the court was on 20 January 1626, and he was buried at St Ann's, Blackfriars, London, on 20 February 1626."[12]

Two major influences on Dowland's music were popular consort songs and the dance music of the day.[13] Most of Dowland's music is for his own instrument, the lute.[14] It includes several books of solo lute works, lute songs (for one voice and lute), part-songs with lute accompaniment, and several pieces for viol consort with lute.[15] The poet Richard Barnfield wrote that Dowland's "heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense."

One of his better known works is the lute song "Flow my tears", the first verse of which runs:

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exil'd for ever let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

— John Dowland[16]

He later wrote what is probably his best known instrumental work, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares, Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, a set of seven pavanes for five viols and lute, each based on the theme derived from the lute song "Flow my tears".[17] It became one of the best known collections of consort music in his time. His pavane "Lachrymae antiquae" was also popular in the 17th century, and was arranged and used as a theme for variations by many composers. He wrote a lute version of the popular ballad "My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home".

Dowland's music often displays a melancholia rare in music at that time, and he pioneered it together with Johann Froberger.[18] He wrote a consort piece with the punning title "Semper Dowland, semper dolens" (always Dowland, always doleful), which may be said to sum up much of his work.[19]

Richard Barnfield, Dowland's contemporary, refers to him in poem VIII of The Passionate Pilgrim (1598), a Shakespearean sonnet:

If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
Then must the love be great 'twixt thee and me,
Because thou lovest the one, and I the other.

Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense;
Spenser to me, whose deep conceit is such
As, passing all conceit, needs no defence.

Thou lovest to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus' lute, the queen of music, makes;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drown'd
When as himself to singing he betakes.

One god is god of both, as poets feign;
One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.

— Richard Barnfield, The Passionate Pilgrim[20]

Published works


Only one comprehensive monograph of Dowland's life and works, by Diana Poulton, is available in print.[21] The fullest catalog list of Dowland's works is that compiled by K. Dawn Grapes in John Dowland: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2019).[22] The numbering for the lute pieces follow the same system as Diana Poulton created in her The Collected Lute Music of John Dowland. P numbers are therefore sometimes used to designate individual pieces.

Many of Dowland's works survive only in manuscript form.[21]

Whole Book of Psalms (1592)


Published by Thomas Est in 1592, The Whole Booke of Psalmes contained works by 10 composers, including 6 pieces by Dowland.

  1. Put me not to rebuke, O Lord (Psalm 38)
  2. All people that on earth do dwell (Psalm 100)
  3. My soul praise the Lord (Psalm 104)
  4. Lord to thee I make my moan (Psalm 130)
  5. Behold and have regard (Psalm 134)
  6. A Prayer for the Queens most excellent Maiestie

New Book of Tablature (1596)


The New Booke of Tabliture was published by William Barley in 1596. It contains seven solo lute pieces by Dowland.

Lamentatio Henrici Noel (1596)


Perhaps written for the professional choir of Westminster Abbey.[23]

  1. The Lamentation of a sinner
  2. Domine ne in furore (Psalm 6)
  3. Miserere mei Deus (Psalm 51)
  4. The humble sute of a sinner
  5. The humble complaint of a sinner
  6. De profundis (Psalm 130)
  7. Domine exaudi (Psalm 143)

Of uncertain attribution are:

  1. Ye righteous in the Lord
  2. An heart that's broken
  3. I shame at my unworthiness

First Book of Songs (1597)


Dowland in London in 1597 published his First Booke of Songes or Ayres, a set of 21 lute-songs and one of the most influential collections in the history of the lute.[3] Brian Robins wrote that "many of the songs were composed long before the publication date, [...] However, far from being immature, the songs of Book I reveal Dowland as a fully fledged master."[24] It is set out in a way that allows performance by a soloist with lute accompaniment or by various other combinations of singers and instrumentalists.[25] The lute-songs are listed below.[26] After them, at the end of the collection, comes "My Lord Chamberlaine, His Galliard", a piece for two people to play on one lute.[27]

  1. Vnquiet thoughts
  2. Who euer thinks or hopes of loue for loue
  3. My thoughts are wingd with hopes
  4. If my complaints could passions moue
  5. Can she excuse my wrongs with vertues cloake
  6. Now, O now I needs must part ("The Frog Galliard")
  7. Deare if you change ile neuer chuse againe
  8. Burst forth my teares
  9. Go Cristall teares
  10. Thinkst thou then by thy faining
  11. Come away, come sweet loue
  12. Rest awhile you cruell cares
  13. Sleepe wayward thoughts
  14. All ye whom loue of fortune hath betraide
  15. Wilt though vnkind thus reaue me of my hart
  16. Would my conceit that first enforst my woe
  17. Come again: sweet loue doth now enuite
  18. His goulden locks time hath to siluer turnd
  19. Awake sweet loue thou art returned
  20. Come heauy sleepe
  21. Awaie with these selfe louing lads

Second Book of Songs (1600)


Dowland published his Second Booke of Songs or Ayres in 1600.[17] It has 22 lute songs.[28] There is also an instrumental work, Dowland’s adew for Master Oliver Cromwell. The songs are as follows:

  1. I saw my Lady weepe
  2. Flow my teares fall from your springs
  3. Sorow sorow stay, lend true repentant teares
  4. Dye not before thy day
  5. Mourne, mourne, day is with darknesse fled
  6. Tymes eldest sonne, old age the heire of ease, First part
  7. Then sit thee downe, and say thy Nunc demittis, Second Part
  8. When others sings Venite exultemus, Third part
  9. Praise blindnesse eies, for seeing is deceipt
  10. O sweet woods, the delight of solitarienesse
  11. If fluds of teares could clense my follies past
  12. Fine knacks for Ladies, cheap, choise, braue and new
  13. Now cease my wandring eyes
  14. Come ye heavie states of night
  15. White as Lillies was hir face
  16. Wofull heart with griefe oppressed
  17. A Sheperd in a shade his plaining made
  18. Faction that euer dwells in court
  19. Shall I sue, shall I seeke for grace
  20. Finding in fields my Siluia all alone (Toss not my soul)
  21. Cleare or Cloudie sweet as Aprill showring
  22. Humor say what makst thou heere

Third Book of Songs (1603)


The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires was published in 1603.[17]

The 21 songs are:

  1. Farewell too faire
  2. Time stands still
  3. Behold the wonder heere
  4. Daphne wast not so chaste as she was changing
  5. Me me and none but me
  6. When Phoebus first did Daphne loue
  7. Say loue if euer thou didst finde
  8. Flow not so fast ye fountaines
  9. What if I neuer speede
  10. Loue stood amaz'd at sweet beauties paine
  11. Lend your eares to my sorrow good people
  12. By a fountaine where I lay
  13. Oh what hath ouerwrought my all amazed thought
  14. Farewell vnkind farewell
  15. Weepe you no more sad fountaines
  16. Fie on this faining, is loue without desire
  17. I must complaine, yet doe enioy
  18. It was a time when silly Bees could speake
  19. The lowest trees haue tops
  20. What poore Astronomers are they
  21. Come when I call, or tarrie till I come

Lachrimae (1604)


The Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares was published in 1604.[17] It contains the seven pavans of Lachrimae itself and 14 others, including the famous Semper Dowland semper Dolens.

  1. Lachrimae Antiquae
  2. Lachrimae Antiquae Nouae
  3. Lachrimae Gementes
  4. Lachrimae Tristes
  5. Lachrimae Coactae
  6. Lachrimae Amantis
  7. Lachrimae Verae
  8. Semper Dowland semper Dolens (P.9)
  9. Sir Henry Vmptons Funeral
  10. M. Iohn Langtons Pauan
  11. The King of Denmarks Galiard (P.40)
  12. The Earle of Essex Galiard
  13. Sir Iohn Souch his Galiard
  14. M. Henry Noell his Galiard
  15. M. Giles Hoby his Galiard
  16. M. Nicho. Gryffith his Galiard
  17. M. Thomas Collier his Galiard with two trebles
  18. Captaine Piper his Galiard (P.19)
  19. M. Bucton his Galiard
  20. Mrs Nichols Almand
  21. M. George Whitehead his Almand

Micrologus (1609)


Dowland published a translation of the Micrologus of Andreas Ornithoparcus in 1609, originally printed in Latin in Leipzig in 1517.

Varietie of Lute-Lessons (1610)


This was published by Dowland's son Robert in 1610 and contains solo lute works by his father and others.

A Musicall Banquet (1610)


This was likewise published by Dowland's son that year. It contains three songs by his father:

  1. Farre from Triumphing Court
  2. Lady If You So Spight Me
  3. In Darknesse Let Me Dwell

A Pilgrimes Solace (1612)


Dowland's last work A Pilgrimes Solace, was published in 1612,[29] and seems to have been conceived more as a collection of contrapuntal music than as solo works.[30] Edmund Fellowes praised it as the last masterpiece in the English school of lutenist song before John Attey's First Booke of Ayres of Foure Parts, with Tableture for the Lute (1622).[31] John Palmer also wrote, "Although this book produced no hits, it is arguably Dowland's best set, evincing his absorption of the style of the Italian monodists."[32]

  1. Disdaine me still, that I may euer loue
  2. Sweete stay a while, why will you?
  3. To aske for all thy loue
  4. Loue those beames that breede
  5. Shall I striue with wordes to moue
  6. Were euery thought an eye
  7. Stay time a while thy flying
  8. Tell me true Loue
  9. Goe nightly cares, the enemy to rest
  10. From silent night, true register of moanes
  11. Lasso vita mia, mi fa morire
  12. In this trembling shadow
  13. If that a Sinners sighes be Angels food
  14. Thou mighty God
  15. When Dauids life by Saul
  16. When the poore Criple
  17. Where Sinne sore wounding
  18. My heart and tongue were twinnes
  19. Vp merry Mates, to Neptunes praise
  20. Welcome black night
  21. Cease these false sports
  22. A Galliard to Lachrimae

Suspicions of treason


Dowland performed a number of espionage assignments for Sir Robert Cecil in France and Denmark; despite his high rate of pay, Dowland seems to have been only a court musician.[8] However, we have in his own words the fact that he was for a time embroiled in treasonous Catholic intrigue in Italy,[33] whither he had travelled in the hopes of meeting and studying with Luca Marenzio, a famed madrigal composer.[3] Whatever his religion, however, he was still intensely loyal to the Queen, though he seems to have had something of a grudge against her for her remark that he, Dowland, "was a man to serve any prince in the world, but [he] was an obstinate Papist."[34] But in spite of this, and though the plotters offered him a large sum of money from the Pope, as well as safe passage for his wife and children to come to him from England,[35] in the end he declined to have anything further to do with their plans and begged pardon from Sir Robert Cecil and from the Queen.[36]

Private life


John Dowland was married and had children, as referenced in his letter to Sir Robert Cecil.[37] However, he had long periods of separation from his family, as his wife stayed in England while he worked on the Continent.[38]

His son Robert Dowland (c. 1591 – 1641) was also a musician, working for some time in the service of the first Earl of Devonshire,[11] and taking over his father's position of lutenist at court when John died.[39]

Dowland's melancholic lyrics Archived 16 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine and music have often been described as his attempts to develop an "artistic persona" in spite of actually being a cheerful person,[18] but many of his own personal complaints, and the tone of bitterness in many of his comments, suggest that much of his music and his melancholy truly did come from his own personality and frustration.[40]

Modern interpretations


One of the first 20th-century musicians who successfully helped reclaim Dowland from the history books was the singer-songwriter Frederick Keel.[41] Keel included fifteen Dowland pieces in his two sets of Elizabethan love songs published in 1909 and 1913,[42] which achieved popularity in their day. These free arrangements for piano and low or high voice were intended to fit the tastes and musical practices associated with art songs of the time.

In 1935, Australian-born composer Percy Grainger, who also had a deep interest in music made before Bach, arranged Dowland's Now, O now I needs must part for piano. Some years later, in 1953, Grainger wrote a work titled Bell Piece (Ramble on John Dowland's 'Now, O now I needs must part'), which was a version scored for voice and wind band, based on his previously mentioned transcription.

In 1951 the counter-tenor Alfred Deller recorded songs by Dowland, Thomas Campion, and Philip Rosseter with the label HMV (His Master's Voice) HMV C.4178 and another HMV C.4236 of Dowland's "Flow my Tears". In 1977, Harmonia Mundi also published two records of Deller singing Dowland's Lute songs (HM 244&245-H244/246).[43]

Dowland's song "Come Heavy Sleepe, the Image of True Death" was the inspiration for Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland, written in 1963 for the guitarist Julian Bream. It consists of eight variations, all based on musical themes drawn from the song or its lute accompaniment, finally resolving into a guitar setting of the song itself.[44]

Dowland's music became part of the repertoire of the early music revival with Bream and tenor Peter Pears, and later with Christopher Hogwood and David Munrow and the Early Music Consort in the late 1960s and later with the Academy of Ancient Music from the early 1970s.

Jan Akkerman, guitarist of the Dutch progressive rock band Focus, recorded "Tabernakel" in 1973 (though released in 1974), an album of John Dowland songs and some original material, performed on lute.

The complete works of John Dowland were recorded by the Consort of Musicke, and released on the L'Oiseau Lyre label, though they recorded some of the songs as vocal consort music;[22] the Third Book of Songs and A Pilgrim's Solace have yet to be recorded in their entirety as collections of solo songs.

The 1999 ECM New Series recording In Darkness Let Me Dwell features new interpretations of Dowland songs performed by tenor John Potter, lutenist Stephen Stubbs, and baroque violinist Maya Homburger in collaboration with English jazz musicians John Surman and Barry Guy.

Nigel North recorded Dowland's complete works for solo lute on four CDs between 2004 and 2007, on Naxos records.

Paul O'Dette recorded the complete lute works for Harmonia Mundi on five CDs issued from 1995 to 1997.

Jordi Savall and his Hespèrion XX issued recordings of the "Lachrimae or Seven Teares" in 2000 and 2013.

Elvis Costello included a recording (with Fretwork and the Composers Ensemble) of Dowland's "Can she excuse my wrongs" as a bonus track on the 2006 re-release of his The Juliet Letters.

In October 2006, Sting, who says he has been fascinated by the music of John Dowland for 25 years,[45] released an album featuring Dowland's songs titled Songs from the Labyrinth, on Deutsche Grammophon, in collaboration with Edin Karamazov on lute and archlute. They described their treatment of Dowland's work in a Great Performances appearance.[46] To give some idea of the tone and intrigues of life in late Elizabethan England, Sting also recites throughout the album portions of a 1593 letter written by Dowland to Sir Robert Cecil.[47] The letter describes Dowland's travels to various points of Western Europe, then breaks into a detailed account of his activities in Italy, along with a heartfelt denial of the charges of treason whispered against him by unknown persons. Dowland most likely was suspected of this for travelling to the courts of various Catholic monarchs and accepting payment from them greater than what a musician of the time would normally have received for performing.[33]

Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick referred to Dowland in many of his works, including the novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), even using the pseudonym "Jack Dowland" once.

The Collected Lute Music of John Dowland, with lute tablature and keyboard notation, was transcribed and edited by Diana Poulton and Basil Lam, Faber Music Limited, London 1974.




  1. ^ While orthographic evidence from Dowland's time strongly suggests a pronunciation of /ˈdlənd/ for the last name, there is no consensus on the correct pronunciation. By analogy with the name Cowper and the Restoration poet Abraham Cowley, the pronunciation /ˈdlənd/ is suggested.
  2. ^ For a full discussion of this claim see Poulton 1982, pp. 21ff.
  3. ^ See A. L. Rowse, Discoveries and Reviews from Renaissance to Restoration (London, Macmillan, 1975), p. 194: "'Countryman', in Elizabethan usage, refers to one's own county or locality. When Dowland refers to himself as 'born under her Highness', I think that phrase is more likely to imply birth in Ireland than in England." Dublin and the area around it were effectively governed from London, in contrast with the rest of Ireland, which was nominally governed by England in a rule that was contested where applied. But English-speaking inhabitants of Dublin, pace Diana Poulton, p. 25, did commonly call themselves English, right up to the time of the Duke of Wellington.


  1. ^ Flood 1906, pp. 287–91.
  2. ^ Holman & O'Dette 2001.
  3. ^ a b c d Smith 2002, p. 275.
  4. ^ Warlock 1970, 24. Excerpt from Dowland's letter of 1595 to Sir Robert Cecil..
  5. ^ Poulton 1982, p. 28.
  6. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 32.
  7. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 34.
  8. ^ a b c d Warlock 1970, p. 33.
  9. ^ a b Smith 2002, p. 276.
  10. ^ Spring 2001, p. 108.
  11. ^ a b Spring 2001, p. 109.
  12. ^ Greer 2004.
  13. ^ Abraham 1968, pp. 204–205.
  14. ^ Abraham 1968, p. 201.
  15. ^ Smith 2002, pp. 274–83.
  16. ^ Stolen & Walters 1996, p. 32.
  17. ^ a b c d Smith 2002, pp. 276–277.
  18. ^ a b Rooley 1983, p. 6.
  19. ^[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "If Music and Sweet Poetry Agree, By Richard Barnfield (1574–1627)". Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  21. ^ a b Grapes 2015.
  22. ^ a b Grapes, K. Dawn (2 August 2019). John Dowland. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315098579. ISBN 978-1-315-09857-9. S2CID 201500097.
  23. ^ "Psalms and spiritual songs". The works of John Dowland. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  24. ^ Robins, Brian. "The Firste Booke of Songes or… | Details". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  25. ^ Abraham 1968, p. 203.
  26. ^ "The First Booke of Songes or Ayres". The works of John Dowland. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  27. ^ "John Dowland, My Lord Chamberlain his Galliard, for 2 to play on 1 lute, P 37". All Music. Archived from the original on 22 May 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  28. ^ "The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres". The works of John Dowland. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  29. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 41.
  30. ^ Abraham 1968, p. 207.
  31. ^ Pilkington, Francis (1922). "The General Preface". First Book of Songs Or Airs, 1605. W. Rogers, Limited. "Not the least remarkable feature of [The English School of Lutenist song-writers] was the shortness of the period during which it shone so brilliantly: for it began with the publication of John Dowland's first volume in 1597 and practically ended with the same composer's A Pilgrim's Solace published in 1612; John Attey's volume followed this [...] in 1622 as an isolated and final example of the same class of composition."
  32. ^ Palmer, John. "A Pilgrimes Solace, lute song | Details". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  33. ^ a b Warlock 1970, Entire letter of John Dowland to Sir Robert Cecil.
  34. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 25.
  35. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 26.
  36. ^ Warlock 1970, p. 26–27.
  37. ^ Warlock 1970, pp. 25–26.
  38. ^ Cooper 1927, p. 642.
  39. ^ Poulton 1964, p. 25.
  40. ^ Poulton 1983, p. 519.
  41. ^ "Mr J Frederick Keel" (unsigned obituary). The Times, 16 August 1954, p. 8.
  42. ^ Keel, Frederick (1909, 1913). Elizabethan love songs, sets I and II. London: Boosey & Hawkes.
  43. ^ Pierre-F. Roberge: Alfred Deller (1912–1979) – A discography Archived 3 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ Smith 2002, p. 289.
  45. ^ Arendt, Paul (6 June 2006). "Gift of a lute makes Sting party like it's 1599". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 6 June 2006.
  46. ^ "Sting: Songs from the Labyrinth". Great Performances. 26 February 2007. PBS. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  47. ^ "The Globe & Mail | A lutenist in a rock'n'roll world..." October 2006. Archived from the original on 14 July 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2009.



Further reading

  • Grapes, K. Dawn (2019), John Dowland: A Research and Information Guide, Routledge, ISBN 9781138298552
  • Grapes, K. Dawn (2024). Dowland. Composers Across Cultures. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-755885-0.
  • Jarchow, Ralf (2004), Ernst Schele – Tabulaturbuch, 1619, Glinde: Jarchow 2004/2009. (facsimile and commentary; with three unique works by Dowland)
  • Poulton, Diana, ed. (1978), The Collected Lute Music of John Dowland (2nd ed.), Faber Music, ISBN 0-571-10024-4
  • Salfield, Ben, ed. (2014), John Dowland: Complete Solo Galliards for Renaissance Lute or Guitar, Peacock Press

Generic information


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