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From 1598 Dowland worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark, though he continued to publish in London. King Christian was very interested in music and paid Dowland astronomical sums; his salary was 500 daler a year, making him one of the highest-paid servants of the Danish court. 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. Dowland was dismissed in 1606 and returned to England; in early 1612 he secured a post as one of James I's lutenists. There are few compositions dating from the moment of his royal appointment until his death in London in 1626. 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."
Two major influences on Dowland's music were the popular consort songs, and the dance music of the day. Most of Dowland's music is for his own instrument, the lute. 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. The poet Richard Barnfield wrote that Dowland's "heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense."
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". It became one of the best known collections of consort music in his time. His pavane, "Lachrymae antiquae", was also popular in the seventeenth 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 the melancholia that was rare in music at that time, and he pioneered it together with Johann Froberger. 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.
Dowland's last work A Pilgrimes Solace, was published in 1612, and seems to have been conceived more as a collection of contrapuntal music than as solo works. 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). 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."
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. However, we have in his own words the fact that he was for a time embroiled in treasonous Catholic intrigue in Italy, whither he had travelled in the hopes of meeting and studying with Luca Marenzio, a famed madrigal composer. 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." 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, 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.
Dowland's melancholic lyrics and music have often been described as his attempts to develop an "artistic persona" in spite of actually being a cheerful person, 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.
One of the first 20th-century musicians who successfully helped reclaim Dowland from the history books was the singer-songwriter Frederick Keel. Keel included fifteen Dowland pieces in his two sets of Elizabethan love songs published in 1909 and 1913, 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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; 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.
In October 2006, Sting, who says he has been fascinated by the music of John Dowland for 25 years, 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. 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. 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.
Dowland wrote many different kinds of music including dances, songs, and instrumental music for consorts. A Renaissance consort was a small ensemble of instruments, often all from the same instrument family. For example, the modern violin, viola, cello, and bass are all members of the violin family because they have a similar sound and are made out of the same materials, even though they are different sizes and have different ranges (meaning how high or low they can play). In Dowland's day, the modern violin family was not yet standardized, and so his compositions would have been played by the forerunners of these instruments called the viol family.
There has been a recent revival of Dowland's music among Renaissance music enthusiasts, and a dozen or so albums of his music have been released in the past twenty years. His haunting tunes have broken into the pop world as well. In 2006, Elvis Costello released a recording of Dowland's lute song 'Can She Excuse My Wrongs,' and Grammy-awarding artist Sting released an entire album of Dowland's lute songs called Songs from the Labyrinth.
John Dowland was a lute player and composer (b. 1563) who was a court lutenist for the English monarchy from 1612 to his death in 1626. Little is known about his personal life, but he was said to have a gloomy personality. He published several volumes of his music including dances, songs, and instrumental music for small ensembles called consorts. He was most famous for his lute songs, works for the voice with accompaniment by the lute, which is a pear-shaped stringed instrument that preceded the guitar. His signature piece, 'Flow My Tears,' was originally an instrumental dance called a pavane, which features three contrasting melodies. Recently, there has been a revival of his music, including an album of his work recorded by Sting.
John Dowland was a Renaissance lutenist best known for his quiet and melancholic music. He composed for and played the lute, a pear-shaped instrument that is a precursor to the modern guitar. While it is known that Dowland was born in 1563, there is some question about his place of birth, as to whether it was England or Ireland. However, most scholars regard England as his country of origin. As with his birth country, little is known about his early childhood or his personal life.
What is known is that he began his musical career working for Sir Henry Cobham, ambassador to the French court in 1580. Dowland also served Sir Cobham's successor, Sir Edward Stafford. It was during this time that he converted to Roman Catholicism, which he later claimed was the reason he was denied positions in the Church of England British court.
In 1584, Dowland moved back to England, where he married and began a family. During his long period of work on the Continent, his family remained in England. He had at least one son, Robert, who also became a recognized musician in his own right, During this time in England, he attended Christ Church College, Oxford University and received a degree in music. In 1597, he was also awarded a degree from Cambridge University in music.