Sunday, 24 January 2021

Lachrimae or Seaven Tears - Dowland & Savall

The first thing that immediately comes to mind about the name of John Dowland is the famous Lachrimae — this pavan written on lute which later caught on as Flow my Tears; the year is 1600. This air became so famous that there is a authentic written memory that even shoemakers whistled this, and later they wrote that European music still floats in Dowland’s tears even a hundred years later.

According to old analogical thinking, we can say that his life was exactly like his music, a kind of quintessence: accompanied by sadness, melancholy, and stunning beauty. When we look at the details of his somewhat gaping life path left to us in some places, we really see that he had good reason to grieve: he lived far away from his homeland, England, his recognition was mostly abroad, and when towards the end of his life, over fifty, now at home, he got it the job he had always longed for (The King's Lute) had to realize bitterly that no one really cared about his music there anymore.

This fallout from perpetuated graces is, in fact, the shadow of something that was decisive at the time. He spent his young years in Paris as an agent of the English embassy and converted to the Roman Catholic faith under pressure from emigrant compatriots. The Anglican-born homeland never seems to have forgiven it. Abroad - after long periods in Denmark, Rome, Venice, Padua and Ferrara - he became embroiled in a papal conspiracy in Florence, so much so that he had to flee, back to London, to half-mercy.

The posterity proved more grateful: they began to call him Anglorium Orpheus, and his music was never forgotten for a single second. Tears have spilled over the centuries, and his popularity today is now specifically on the rise. This is due to the fact that whoever ever takes a Renaissance lute in his hand will definitely play a work by Dowland; so the great performers, without exception, commemorated him with a record.
Even Sting somehow got mixed up here.

One of them became a cornerstone.

Great names, everyone with soot-black hair, Savall's beard was also black, Pandolfo still has hair, and the CD is a 2013 release?! Yes, this is a multiple reissue. The original 1987 album was included in the Heritage series by AliaVox. The well-dressed SACD is now in our hands as something of a precious book rarity.
What a beautiful thing.

Lachrimae or Seaven Teares 1604 is the only collection of the four released which was written for a full consort, so the orchestration is tenor and bass instruments as well as a lute. The role of the latter is special because it does not degrade into a simple continuo support, but radiates the polyphony of the late Renaissance with its own, sometimes very complicated lines

There is immediately a huge difference from Palestrina's school, which was still in its infancy at the time, and that is the melody, the melodicity, which was not as characteristic at the time as the later musical component dear to the ear that will be absolutely missing from Bach's music.

Most of his older things are in this collection, but in a way that he created something completely new. The top billing is clearly Lachrimae; this pavan became the base, making seven variations on the original theme. Each ones linked to different dances; the latter were also well-known and popular pieces, here they bear the names of famous persons of the age or current patrons. These seven pairs are complemented by some previous compositions, rearranged to consort, lines distributed, and Lachrimae or Seaven Teares is ready.

Extremely interesting garlands: the seven tears are a double tiny hemisphere, divided in two-thirds-one-third proportions by the pavan and galliarde, melancholy, and merriment. One would think how clever a businessman this Dowland was, he didn’t want this edition to drown in sadness, so he colored it to sell better. Once we listen through it, in turn, the match of the couple will be striking; so much so that when we want to take it apart, we act like the infamous hemisphere in the main square of Magdeburg in 1654. We keep pulling it apart, but it doesn’t come, and at first, just like King Frederick, we can’t comprehend what this mysterious force is that binds them together that no eight pairs of horses can separate.

Indeed, the hidden merriment of melancholy is closely intertwined with the fading sadness of joy. Always. And stronger than we think.

The way the Savallians play is absolute unique. Why? Listen to the first 5 seconds and it will be clear. Because it's extremely straightforward. I myself listen to a lot of this kind of music, and fortunately today’s early music playing is moving in exactly that direction, and on records, especially after 2000, the average level is gratifyingly high, but we can’t go without a word about what’s going on here. Despite all expectations, the greater the sadness, the straighter the music. Like an unshakable line. Nowhere is it a small part of a vibrato, there is not a little trembling to make you see that I am suffering, feel sorry for me, please; there is no trace of the disgusting rattle that comes from the alms-asking cup of the wretched beggar in the dust. There is no big dream of cellists that I will show you what that big emotion is, there will be so much heartbreak here that not only you but even I will cry, but really it will all be just to make you feel sorry for me and just look at me. And yet, let’s think about it, the viola would be thousand times more toned and tinted for this. Here, the playing is straight, almost as objective as a water level report. There is attitude and dignity. What the story is about, the drift of huge rivers, in turn, shines entirely, it is not obscured by the desolation of the individual, the beauty of melancholy will be so alive that the lines soar up to the sky, there will be a star on their mountain, and it is not Savall’s sadness, neither Dowland’s sorrow, it is a purely spiritual process, perhaps revealing the transcendental superiority of the ancient mystic Hexachord.

What a fine definition of early music has been borne. I hope romantic music lovers have skipped the above; I’m afraid they might miss this whole blog out of their lives anyway.

Inevitably, Glenn Gould comes to mind because we feel the same way that he doesn’t mind if the audience walks out of the room with the majority at the forefront waiting and wishing for saliva and drip while thinking about their lovers and / or dinner - he would rather play for the music only. Like the circular choirs of the Middle Ages who sang inwards: both performance and reception are meditation, we, the audience, can at best get a little insight into the alchemist’s workshop.

Before we finally immerse in weeping, descending from the heavens to see what a gigantic grief this Dowland was, let us think that he specifically loved luxury; he was practically fired from his position in the Danish court because of his immoderate and trapping lifestyle. Strange, but for me it makes his music even more authentic because he also lived the distance to the other extreme, he knew what he was talking about. So, these galliards were just needed at the ends of the tearful lashes. He himself wrote that sometimes tears do not fall because of grief, but because the situation is joyful, which can be happiness or an elevated mood, even just the rapture felt over the beauty of melancholy.

The variations are a bit different from the usual: only the foundation walls are left - all the rooms and doors, the roof and beams, the furniture and chandeliers, the blinds and the kitchen knives - everything changes. One thing - that it is good to live and dwell in them - remains common.

In the middle there is the Lachrimae Coactae, with strangely tuned harmonies, balanced on the verge of dissonance, with its constantly descending chords, practically pulling you inside the music like a vortex, slowly swirling in a circle, getting deeper and deeper, that means now, a very special elevation.

It clearly feels that a consort of violas is a special association that creates such a constant tone curtain that it is not an exaggeration to say that it is one of the most beautiful human-made sounds. Whoever has played in it once can be happy.

After this miracle, If we take the courage to suddenly offer our CD player with an ‘ordinary’ string quartet or string quintet, surely the cold gets in our feet, no matter how good the music is (i.e. whoever loves it), the pollen is fluttering, the wings of the angels are bare and shivering when they leave the hairdresser.

The sound quality is outstanding, and the hi-fiers who exchange their car for a piece of speaker wire (which is a completely normal life strategy anyway) have gone crazy about the sound. If you accidentally come across a SACD player and a HighEnd system, do not hesitate.

Savall plays a viola built in 1550; at the top of the ten thousand colors sits a delicate network of hairline cracks which somehow lets the music out from the surface of the varnish with its secret ingredient.

He makes the music “fly”, that's a good word. All the way up and up, to the Heaven.

If we’re just light, then us too, if not so much, then just a little bit, so that our footprints don’t show up on the ground.

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Translated by Kenesei Andrea


Thank you for the images.