John Dowland’s Welcome Home

John DowlandIt would not be entirely accurate for me to say, “I could listen to the music of John Dowland for hour after hour”, because that would suggest a mere theoretical possibility.

The fact is that I do listen to the music of John Dowland for hour after hour, and never seem to tire of it.

The lute music is far more satisfactory than the songs. All too often, the songs are performed in a classical style, by musicians trained in the classical technique, which to my ear is entirely alien to the Renaissance. They sound to me like total prats. The singer who gets closest, to my way of thinking, to the way it should sound is Sting.

The lutes are very interesting. 50 years or so ago, there were virtually no playable Renaissance lutes, but a number of modern luthiers have very carefully examined the remaining examples of the real thing, and have produced wonderful modern playable instruments that are probably very similar to what Dowland would have played.

When I was at university, I had an LP of Julian Bream called “The Golden Age of Elizabethan Lute Music” or some such. I must have ruined it by playing it over and over again. Much later, when I joined the Lute Society in London, I met Julian Bream. An utterly inspiring man, who was then evidently in deep grief, his wife having left him. He spoke a lot about his dog Django, who was evidently a huge comfort to him.

I try to play Dowland myself, but a lot if it is really quite hard, and way outside my skill level. I have recently restrung my old classical guitar to renaissance lute tuning to try to expand my abilities in this regard (a 6 string guitar is much easier to play than my lute, which has 15 strings). Still a fair way to go there, I fear.


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