Four hundred, twenty years ago, Renaissance composer, lutenist and singer John Dowland (a contemporary of William Shakespeare) publishes his Second Book of Songs in London. There were 22 song titles in the book and the most well known of these is Flow, My Tears. Written as an aria and for a lute, its style and form is based on a pavane, a slow, couple-dance common in the 16th century. It’s original 1596 title was Lachrimae Pavane (literally “tears dance”) and Dowland added lyrics later.
Additional Reading & Sources:
John Dowland (Edition HH Music Publishers)
John Dowland Part I (Millenium of Music)
John Dowland Biography (Study Website)
Lachrimae: Continental Context (University of London Goldsmiths)
Flow, My Tears (Wikipedia)
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (Wikipedia)
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.
Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.
From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.
Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world’s despite.
Now, we are in the 1570s…
Spem in Alium is Latin for “hope in any other” or “hope in another”. A 40-part Renaissance Motet, it was composed in 1570 (thereabouts) by Thomas Tallis (Tallys). Written for eight choirs of five voices each, meaning there are 40 separate voices singing individual lines of music, it is considered to be Tallis’s greatest achievement and, possibly, one of the finest compositions of all time.
Information on where it was first performed is scarce. There appears to be some confusion regarding where it took place, as two locations…Nonsuch Palace, a royal Tudor palace in Surrey built by Henry VIII (not to be confused with Nonsuch Mansion) and Arundel House, a London townhouse originally for the Bishops of Bath & Wells…were both owned by Henry Fitzalan, the 12th/19th Earl of Arundel at one time. Most of what I have read leans towards Arundel House but, truly, I don’t think anyone really knows. It’s all a big guess. And, it is pure speculation as to why he wrote it. Some suggestions include a challenge due to an Italian composer doing same, Elizabeth’s 40th birthday or, perhaps for Mary as he was Catholic. Again, no one really knows.
The music, below, is soul stirring. ~Vic
The text of the motet:
Spem in alium nunquam habui
Praeter in te, Deus Israel
Qui irasceris et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum
in tribulatione dimittis
Creator caeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram
I have never put my hope in any other
but in Thee, God of Israel
who canst show both wrath and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins
of man in suffering
Creator of Heaven and Earth
Regard our humility
Additional Reading & Sources:
The Belle Jar (Blog Post)
Oxford Music Online
Spem in Alium History (PDF on Super Flumina Website)
How To Buy Spem In Alium (Classic FM Website)
Tallis and His Song of Forty Parts (Zenodo Website)
Coming forward in time, I was reading around in the 1400s & 1500s (noticing some of the composers that died in the plague) and discovered another interesting little piece: My Lady Carey’s Dompe (a lament or dirge), a traditional English dance tune. Written for a harpsichord and, possibly, a lute, the composer remains unknown, though suggested attribution is Hugh Aston and, the specific date is questionable. It could be 1525 or, 1528 if the song was, indeed, composed for the death of William Carey, a courtier in the service of Henry VIII. Lady Carey could refer to his wife Mary Boleyn, a mistress to Henry and sister to Anne Boleyn but, could also refer to his mother, sisters or his sister-in-law.
In any case, the song is lovely and, catchy. Enjoy.
“One of the earliest surviving keyboard pieces we have…”