The Kennedy Center

John Dowland



Biography

John Dowland was an English composer, singer, and lutenist.  Little is known about his childhood beyond the facts that he was born in 1563 and was a child prodigy.  It was once believed that he was Irish and born in Dublin but some claimed that he was born in Westminster. 

His history starts around 1580 in Paris, where he worked for Sir Henry Cobham, ambassador to the French court.  During this period he became a Roman Catholic.  In 1594 he applied for a position as a lutenist at Elizabeth I's court but was rejected. He claimed he was not offered the job because of his religion.  From 1598, he worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark. 

Ironically it was in London where Dowland published his first successful collection of music, The First Booke of Songes or Ayres of Foure Partes with Tableture for the Lute (1597).  It was the first published collection of English lute songs and was the first publication to use the ingenious table formatted layout, which allowed for performances being displayed in many different ways.  

He is known today for his melancholy songs such as Come, heavy sleep, Come again, Flow my tears, I saw my Lady weepe and In darkness let me dwell, but his instrumental music has influenced many current day musicians and classical guitarists during this century.  Artists who have been influenced by the works of John Dowland include:  Science fiction author Philip K. Dick and his lute music recurs as a theme in his novels;  Sting and  Edin Karamazov who released a song on lute and arch lute, based on John Dowland's music in October 2006; and Elvis Costello, who with Fretwork and the Composers Ensemble recorded John Dowland's Can she excuse my wrongs in 2006.

John Dowland was married and had children.  His wife stayed in England while he worked in Denmark.  His son Robert, also a musician, worked in the service of the first Earl of Devonshire taking over his father's position of lutenist at court after he died.  He died in London in the spring of 1626.
John Dowland

Compositions