Lachrimae or Seaven Teares

John Dowland

Lachrimae or Seaven Teares

About this work

It seems likely that one of the reasons John Dowland returned briefly to England in the late summer of 1603 after nearly 10 years abroad was to oversee the publication of one of his most famous works, the Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares, which, in a none too subtle effort to ingratiate himself with the English court, he dedicated to Queen Anne. In the event it availed Dowland nothing, for he failed to gain a long-sought post at the English court, almost certainly because Anne did not wish to be seen poaching one of her brother's, King Christian IV of Denmark, most highly valued court musicians. Lachrimae is scored for a "broken" (or mixed) consort of five viols and lute. In essence, the work is a collection of dance music, a series of seven slow moving pavans succeeded by "diuers other Pavans, Galliards, and Almands." The unique form of the work lies in the separation of the two genres into two quite distinct groups. The motive for such an innovative approach is soon established, since the series of pavans with which it opens are linked by a single idea, the so-called "falling tear" motif heard at the outset of the opening pavan, "Lachrimae Antiquae," an idea familiar from Dowland's famous song Flow my teares (from the Second Book of Songs published in 1600). Each of the six pavans that follows is a variant of the opening piece, each having its own distinctive character. The result is one of the greatest works in the canon of English chamber music, a work whose cumulative power over the course of its seven successive slow movements cannot fail to move the listener. Dowland obviously recognized how unusual the succession of the seven pavans was. In the prefatory dedication to Queen Anne he writes: "And though the title doth promise teares, unfit guests in these joyous times, yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musicke weeps, neither are teares always shed in sorrowe, but sometimes in joy and gladnesse," words that also provide a key to the understanding of a work that, while melancholy in general character, is by no means universally sad. For example the fifth piece, "Lachrimae coactea" is often regarded as a parody of the preceding "Lachrimae tristes," the intensely profound pavan that lies at the heart of the work. Many of the remaining pieces in the collection were arranged from pre-existent lute works, which Dowland arranged for his "broken" consort. Among them are a number of well known pieces such as the "King of Denmark's Galiard," "Captaine Piper his Galiard," and "Semper Dowland semper dolens," the play on words which the composer employed to describe his melancholy nature.

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