There have only been two occasions when English composers have profoundly affected the course of European musical history. The first was in the early fifteenth century when the motets, Mass movements and chansons of John Dunstable and his contemporaries became the models for subsequent developments in Flanders and Burgundy. The second was two centuries later, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when a number of English composers and instrumentalists found work at northern European courts. They went abroad for three main reasons. Some, like Peter Philips and Richard Dering, were religious refugees, in flight from Queen Elizabeth’s persecution of Catholics. Some, such as William Brade and Thomas Simpson, were probably attracted by the lucrative opportunities available in the prosperous small courts and city states of northern Europe. Others were associated with the English theatre companies that began to tour the Continent in the 1580s and ’90s following the 1572 Act of Parliament that restricted the activities of ‘common players in interludes and minstrels’. Henceforth, actors were forbidden to work in England unless they were under the patronage of the Queen or a prominent courtier.
John Dowland probably had mixed motives for leaving England in 1594. He had just been turned down for a post as a court lutenist, but he also had Catholic sympathies. He worked first at Wolfenbüttel and Kassel, and in 1598, after a second attempt to obtain a court post, he joined the group of English musicians in the service of Christian IV, King of Denmark. He remained in Copenhagen until 1606, though he visited London in the summer of 1603 ‘on his own business’, as a Danish court clerk put it. By 1603 he was one of the most famous lutenists in Europe and could reasonably have expected a court post in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death in March of that year, for the wife of the new King James I was Anne of Denmark, sister of Christian IV. In the event, it still eluded him, perhaps, as Peter Warlock once suggested, because Anne did not wish it to be thought that she had poached one of her brother’s musicians. When he finally became one of James I’s lutenists in 1612 he had long left the Danish court. Dowland probably hoped to attract Anne’s attention by dedicating Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares to her. In the dedication he states that he had ‘access to your Highnesse at Winchester’ (the court was there in September and October 1603), and that he had twice tried to sail back to Denmark but had been compelled to winter in England ‘by contrary windes and frost’.
Dowland broke new ground with the publication of Lachrimae. At the time, dance music was usually written or printed in sets of separate quarto parts, but Lachrimae is a folio volume and has the parts for each piece distributed around each side of a single opening, so that in theory they could be performed around a table from a single copy. Dowland may have adopted this format, the one he used for his lute songs, because he included a lute part in tablature, which could not easily be accomodated in a small set of part-books. Lachrimae is certainly the first English collection of five-part dance music, manuscript or printed, to include a lute part, though lutes often appear in contemporary pictures of violin bands accompanying dancing. (Peter Holman)