Episode 54: John Dowland’s “Lachrimae Antiquae”

Episode 54: John Dowland’s “Lachrimae Antiquae”

This is María and this is Hester.
Together we are the CONSORT COUNSELLORS! Today we would like to speak
about a very well-known composition: the “Pavane Lachrimae” by John Dowland,
in the version for five-part consort. “Lachrimae Antiquae” is the opening piece
of Dowland’s collection “Lachrimae, or Seven Teares”, published in London in 1605. Each of the “seven tears” in the title is a pavane connected to an emotional state that may induce tears. For example, “Lachrimae Tristes” are “tears of sadness”
and “Lachrimae Amantis” are “tears of a lover”. John Dowland often found inspiration in melancholy. He even wrote a piece that has to do with himself, a lute solo entitled “Semper Dowland, semper dolens”:
“Always Dowland, always doleful”… Later, he also arranged it for five-part consort,
so you can also find it in the “Lachrimae” collection. In researching melancholy, Dowland was for sure not alone. Towards the end of the 16th century, the arts
and sciences took a very strong interest in this state of mind. Melancholy was defined as a specific form of despair,
the result of an excess of black bile in the body. Music could offer some relief to the sorrowful soul… To end this introduction in a happier note: there are also
some fast and cheerful dances in Dowland’s collection: galliards and almains, all of them dedicated to someone.
Most of them to noblemen, a few to other people, for example Captain Digorie Piper, a pirate! This is how the original notation looks like. As you can see, each part is written in a different direction so that musicians could gather around the table and comfortably read together from the same book. Besides the five parts of instrumental polyphony, the edition includes a lute part, written in tablature. In this type of notation, each of the lines that you see represent one of the six courses (pairs of strings) of the lute. The letters indicate on which fret the player
must place the fingers of the left hand. The figures on top
help the player figuring out the rhythm he must play. Dowland’s series of seven pavanes elaborates on “Flow my tears”,
which was first a lute solo and later a song for voice and lute. “Lachimae Antiquae” is basically a consort arrangement
of this “old song”. The opening motif of the cantus is the musical reflection
of a falling tear, and we hear it twice. Each “tear” is a series of four notes in descending stepwise motion. The intervals between the different notes can vary On the first “tear” we have: tone – tone – semitone. On the second “tear” we see semitone – tone – semitone, which has a very different colour. When you play any of the Lachrimae pavanes by Dowland, look for all the “tears” in your own part
and play them separately, to get a feeling of the character of each of them. You will need a sharp ear and eye,
because some of the tears are a bit hidden! You may also encounter a mirrored “tear”, worth noting! Not all “tears” are in the top line, some important ones
may be in other voices, for example the bass. If you play one of the middle voices, most likely
you will play less tear motifs than the top line, but your role in the piece is nevertheless very important. You will create many dissonances: frictions, clashes
which make the music feel more painful and unstable, but therefore also more interesting. This happens mainly in three ways: Often (not always, though), when you play a dotted note
or a syncopation, and then move downwards, you are involved in a clash… This happens, for example, when you play
the typical “V-figure” of a cadence. When you have long notes,
keep an ear open for all the other voices. See if you notice someone placing a clash
against your long note. What we call “passing dissonances” are clashes
produced by relatively quick moving figures in “weak” parts of the bar. They are often a little bit “forgotten”, because
we are so used to hearing them all the time. It is good to be aware of the colour
they bring into the piece. A good exercise to feel how important
those “passing” dissonances are, is the following: With the whole ensemble, play only
the minims / half notes and longer note values and leave the rest out. Like this, we skip
the passing dissonances and just enjoy the harmony of, for example, the first bar, which is purely A minor. Then, play again with all the notes and feel how the passing dissonances are
making the music move towards the next bar. A special kind of clash that we often find
in Dowland’s music is the following: If you are not familiar with the music of the 16th century
you may think this is a mistake… But it is not at all! In this music, the voices are very independent. You could say that
they give priority to their own melodic movement and therefore, sometimes they play different versions
of the same pitch, in this case G and G#. When you play this type of clash,
focus on following the natural direction of your melody. Let the dissonance happen by itself.
You don’t need to help it, it doesn’t need to be loud and it definitely does not need to be accented.
Simply come together with these beautiful melodies into a painful but beautiful “accident”. On the title page, Dowland specifies that this music
is set “for the lute, viols or violins”. He does not mention wind instruments at all, unfortunately. When we want to play the pieces from this collection
on recorders, we need to look into the range in detail. Since the music is idiomatic for viols, we may need
to transpose or come up with alternative settings. If you play “Lachrimae Antiquae” on modern recorders,
we recommend to use Alto–Alto–Tenor –Tenor–Great Bass. The range of the top line also fits in a soprano recorder,
but then you move into a rather low register and you go farther away from the ideal renaissance consort,
which would use as less different sizes as possible. Our recommended setting on renaissance recorders is
G alto–G alto–Tenor–Tenor–Great Bass You can also play a fifth lower, with the same fingerings
on Tenor–Tenor–Bass–Bass–Contrabass. Another consequence of this book
being set for viols or violins and lute is that we can find inspiration in their technique,
in the way these musicians play, and apply it to our recorder playing. Focus on breathing calmly together
and producing soft attacks, a very soft “d” articulation, for example. Feel the bow making the string vibrate. This is equivalent to feeling the airstream
flowing in your instrument. What string players are also very good at,
is playing endings. They can see when the bow ends, and they know exactly
what the shape of the final chord will be. They stop together very gently, they take breath together
and then play the repeat or move on to the next section. We can get some inspiration from this too! One last point of inspiration from string players for today:
calm fast values. When we move the fingers or articulate on the recorder,
our movements are actually very small, but when you need to move the bow and change direction,
you need some time to do this! We can be inspired by these gestures
when we play our fastest values. There are around 100 different arrangements
of the Lachrimae Pavane written during or shortly after Dowland’s life, and beyond! See how many you can find! It is very interesting to see how a simple musical idea,
the “tear” motif, has inspired and moved so many artists to create new works. If you plan to play the consort version of Lachrimae Pavane,
there are so many recordings you can find…! Listen to them, you will find lots of inspiration.
We leave you a few tips in the video description below. We are very happy to announce that we have surpassed
the magic number of 1500 subscribers! Thank you! It makes us very happy to see that the
Consort Counsellors Community is growing! Therefore, it’s time to celebrate again,
and this time, with something special! We would like to invite you all
to join our first LIVE CHAT on YouTube! Wednesday the 10th of April at 8.45pm, CEST! Our plan is to play some music for you,
answer some of your burning questions live and then have a live QUIZ so that you may be the winner of the second ever-produced
travel coffee mug of the Consort Counsellors… …and a CD signed by Seldom Sene! Don’t miss it, we will be waiting for you!
See you then, bye bye! If you like our stuff,
don’t forget to subscribe to our channel so that you never miss
any future video of the CONSORT COUNSELLORS!

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Lovely ! Thank you ladies. This was a nice reminder about Dowland and as always very interesting. I believe I haven't listened to him in 30 years or maybe more. After this episode I will definitely dig out some of the records I have. Much appreciated is also the list of listening tips. Have a great week and congrats for reaching 1500 subscribers. You will soon double that <3 /Christer

  2. Ah…the melancholic Dowland and his Lachrimae. Thank you for spotlighting this amazing lute, etc. music. Your analysis is excellent!

  3. Maybe it was Dowland's music that prompted Shakespeare to get one of his characters to observe: strange how sheep's guts can hale men's hearts out of their bodies! (not quoting verbatim) I prefer Alfred Deller's (counter tenor) rendition more apt and suited to this emotion than Peter Pears (tenor) but thanks ladies for drawing attention to this great composer. Indebted. Harry, India

  4. "If you're not familiar with the music of the 16th century" ….. but Lachrimae was published in 1605. Let's just say he started working on it 6 years before that.

    Btw, the G does not really follow from a melodic movement. More that an augmented fifth would be really weird.

  5. What an excellent teaching video. You have really heightened my understanding of how to play These Dowland pieces. You are offering such a wonderful service to recorder players worldwide. Thank you so much.

  6. This is a very useful and important video making. Thanks a lot for sharing all these great issues about John Download's "Pavane Lachcrymae Anticquae". I really like this piece. It is so beautiful and Jacob Van Eyck composed variations of it. Greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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