Classical Haiku: John Dowland

Flow your ancient tears
down the river of time to
our modern-sullied blues.

Even four centuries before the birth of the blues, John Dowland had the blues, baaaaad.

He was a talented lutenist and composer and had managed to gain at least a toehold in the court of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I.

Dowland composed any number of songs for solo voice with lute accompaniment, including “Flow My Tears,” or ”Lachrymae,” (actually a very happy-sounding song), which became the Renaissance equivalent of a hit on the Billboard charts.

Everyone who knew this song based some kind of instrumental arrangement or fantasy on it, including Dowland himself, who composed galliards and other delights on the tune.

But when Dowland was passed up for a full-time gig at court, he had to do something drastic to get a job. He hopped the next ferry to Denmark and set up shop at the Danish royal court.

That’s why we now have the Prince of Denmark’s Galliard, the King of Denmark’s Galliard and so on by this most British composer.

Dowland seems to have been homesick for the hills of Albion during his time in Denmark. He dedicated his published set of consort songs (1604), which he had composed while in Denmark, to the King of Denmark’s sister, an associate with the court of Britain’s King James I.

A not-so-veiled request for a job transfer? Quite.

Today’s Classical Haiku is devoted to John Dowland, composer extraordinaire whose job woes gave the world some of the most beautiful blues before their time.