The English Language

  • Charles Osborne


TheearliestEnglish songs which still retain their power to delight a general, non-specialist musical audience are those of John Dowland (1563–1626), the English lutenist who travelled and studied on the continent, who was for some time lutenist to King Christian IV of Denmark and, towards the end of his life, in the service of the Duke of Wolgast in Pomerania. A virtuoso performer on the lute, and apparently an excellent singer of his own songs, Dowland can lay claim to being the first great English composer, and indeed one of the very few great English composers of song in any period. His solo songs to lute accompaniment stand at the beginning of a line of descent that leads, through the classical song of the 18th century, to the great flowering of the German Lied in the 19th century. It is thought that some of his tunes may be based on folk song; he was certainly a remarkable melodist, and far in advance of his time in that he had no inhibitions about sharing the melodic interest of a song between singer and accompanist in a manner that, to modern ears, can sometimes sound startlingly Schubertian. In recent years, Peter Pears and Julian Bream have done much in their joint recitals to popularize the songs of Dowland, and to remind modern listeners of the pure genius of one of the finest composers for the human voice. Such songs as’ sorrow, stay’, ‘Flow, my tears’ and ‘Weep you no more, sad fountains’ are as accessible and direct in their effect as any of the masterpieces of 19th-century German song.


Creative Personality Folk Song Popular Song Musical Language Solo Song 
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Copyright information

© Charles Osborne 1974

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  • Charles Osborne

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