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The British Clavichord Society Newsletter

Derek Adlam

No. 34, February 2006

John Dowland: Keyboard Music, edited by Christopher Hogwood. Thirty pieces for harpsichord, virginals or clavichord. Edition HH, Launton, Oxfordshire (2005): No. HH074.SOL

The great lutenist John Dowland wrote nothing for keyboard, but such was the appeal of his music that it was eagerly seized on by his contemporaries to be set for keyboard instruments. The popularity of his pavan Lachrymae Antiquae (Old Tears) was so great that it can be found in about 100 manuscripts and prints from all over Europe, transcribed not only for keyboard, but for lute duet, lute and viols, cittern, bandora, recorder, violin, division and lyra viols, mixed consort and in vocal versions. As Peter Holman points out,’ this piece dates from the early 1590s and probably was written originally for a six-course lute. Dowland’s well known adaptation as the lute song Flow my teares, as well as a number of instrumental transcriptions, reflects his own attitude to the mutability of the music. The richness of the part-writing in consort versions was particularly attractive to arrangers for the keyboard, where such textures fall naturally under the hand. Many other examples from the first half of the seventeenth century demonstrate that there were no single, definitive versions of any of these pieces, but in circulating and through being copied, they were freely arranged and varied. Many of these adaptations would have been based on earlier settings which themselves would be arrangements from an earlier source.

Christopher Hogwood’s anthology of thirty Dowland pieces for keyboard brings together settings from many British and Continental sources. They range from quite primitive and literal transcriptions to elegant and elaborate sets of variations. None are included from English sources that are already available in good modern editions, so the composers Bull, Byrd, Farnaby and Gibbons do not appear in this collection. At least one example of every Dowland piece known to exist in a keyboard version is included. With pieces from so many sources of varying quality and competence, and in both stave and tablature notations, the player must expect certain inconsistencies of presentation. Irregularity of beaming in particular may present an initial problem on first reading through the pieces, but in accordance with the editorial method this is not given a specious uniformity that is not found in the original source. The presence or absence of accidentals, too, will allow the performer to use personal preferences when applying ficta. In doing so the player will be acting in accordance with the variables of early performance practice rather than accepting an editor’s proposal as the sole, ‘correct~ resolution of an ambiguity.

Amongst the many delights to be found here 1 found the simple settings of Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe [see the music insert with this Newsletter] and The Frog Galliard from Anne Cromwell’s Virginal Book to be particularly satisfying. From amongst the fine ‘art’ settings it is no surprise to find seven versions of Lachrymae. Outstanding amongst these are one believed to be by Heinrich Scheidemann, and a very good text of the Sweelinck setting which is available to us only from a defective original source. Best of all is a wonderful variation set by Melchior Schildt that exploits the keyboard in a masterly fashion, and is as splendidly exclamatory as the Sweelinck is introverted.

Although these pieces are apt for harpsichord or virginal, the fact that they are derived from lute pieces makes a clavichord the ideal choice of keyboard instrument. A lute’s subtle voice, transparency, expressive hints and inflections can be well matched on the clavichord. This volume is an indispensable addition to our music shelves.

Derek Adlam, Welbeck

Available from the British Clavichord Society Bookshop.


1. Peter Holman: Dowland: ‘Lachrimae’ (1604) (Cambridge Music Handbooks), Cambridge University Press, 1999.

© Copyright Derek Adlam

We are grateful to Derek Adlam and The British Clavichord Society Newsletter for permission to reproduce this review.

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