John Dowland

Lachrimae, for lute, P 15

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    John Dowland in his lute solo called Lachrimae (tears), Lennon-like, may have written the first international hit song to come from the British Isles. A hundred years before, continental musicians competed with one another to "cover" the most popular French chansons in their masses and motets, but in the case of Dowland's Lachrimae, the opening theme became internationally known as his melody. It helped cement the popular image of him as "Semper Dowland semper dolens" (Dowland always in sorrow), but it also became a musicians' tool: any brief quotation of the Lachrimae melody brought instant recognition among the erudite listeners and homage to the earlier master. Dowland himself rode the crest of the song's popularity, publishing a later version for voice and lute (probably to his own text), Flow, my tears. He also published a complete set of seven Lachrimae pavans (corresponding to the seven Penitential Psalms?) for chamber consort. Even the earliest surviving manuscript containing Dowland's Lachrimae includes no fewer than three solo versions. By the early 1590s at least, Dowland was already famous for playing this melancholy tune.

    Apparently the earliest surviving version of Dowland's lute Lachrimae is a dance variation in G minor. Specifically, it is a Pavan, one of the more stately courtly dances popular in Elizabethan England. But unlike an earlier generation of music called by this generic term, Lachrimae does not follow a repetitive "ground" bass pattern. Rather, the Lachrimae pavan falls into three sections, each repeated. This elegant and eminently audible structure allows the composer (who presumably played the work himself as well) strongly to highlight the artifice of his ornaments. The opening strain remains fairly straightforward, setting out the self-conscious and dramatic melancholy affect; the well-known music is rich in mournful Phrygian cadences and strident harmonic cross-relations. Yet immediately upon repeating this strain, Dowland not only adds a more rhapsodic melisma, but one that contains a wonderfully pungent A flat! In the middle strain, it is imitation that the composer vests with emotional power, as a barren bass voice echoes the plaintive rising triads of the melody; again, the second iteration is even more starkly profiled at the corresponding moment. The pavan's third strain, already rich with suspensions in inner voices, offers a final opportunity for the player/composer to exceed in rhapsodic fireworks for the final repeat. The ever-doleful Dowland nearly drowns in his own tears.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Continuo / Continuo Classics 110
    2017 Globe Music GMU 002
    2016 ABC Classics 4812457
    2016 ABC Classics 4812456
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 326
    2015 Ars Produktion ARS 38169
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 305
    2014 Orlando Records OR 0007
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907515
    2014 Hyperion CDA 68007
    2013 Alpha / Alpha Productions ALPHA 187
    2013 BIS BIS 2017
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4764998
    2012 Duane Large
    2011 Challenge Classics 72369
    2011 BIS 1725
    2010 Dorian / Dorian Sono Luminus 92105
    2010 Raumklang 3006
    2010 Haenssler 98600
    2009 Naxos 8504016
    2009 Naxos 8556840
    2008 BIS 1724
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93698
    2007 Naxos 8 503188
    2007 L'Oiseau-Lyre 452563
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220554
    2006 Naxos 8557862
    2006 Telarc Distribution 80659
    2005 Alpha Productions 81
    2003 BIS 300824
    2003 Glossa GCD 920109
    2003 Dorian 90022
    2001 Harmonia Mundi HMX290 8001/15
    1999 Harmonia Mundi HMX2958011/5
    1999 Arcana 36
    1999 NMC 003
    1999 Astree 129002
    1997 Dorian 90009
    1997 Astree 8588
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 2907160
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 907163
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 2908011
    1996 Harmonia Mundi 907161
    1995 BIS 722/724
    1993 Arabesque 6622
    1993 BIS 451
    1985 Astree 7715
    Coda 9301
    Harmonia Mundi 2908001/11
    RCA 7843