Lessons: John Dowland and the lute

One of the finest Early Music discs we have covered so far on Classical Explorer - a real treasure

Lessons: John Dowland and the lute

Before we get into the theory of what a “Lesson” is or is not, let’s begin by saying this is one of the most masterly and purely beautiful discs to come my way in a long time. Let’s also break with tradition and turn to those most often mentioned last, first: the producer and sound engineer, for the recorded sound on this disc is spectacular: every nuance is detectable, the feeling of space around the lute is just so, as is the sense of presence and placement of the instrument (and performer) itself. Students of recording - Tonmeisters, as they are sometimes known - could learn much here.

A “lesson” describes an instrumental piece, although not necessarily one intended for teaching purporses, just as the title “fancy” is from today’s viewpoint slightly misleading. This latter refers to fugal fantasias, as in the incredibly lachrymose  Forlorn Hope Fancy, which finds descending chromatic lines balanced by slow waves of lines in the bass. Listen to how Nordberg’s delivery of Dowland’s linear processes in Forlorn Hope Fancy results in crystelline clarity alongside that sense of utter desolation (the composer’s motto was, after all, Semper Dowland semper dolens, itself the title of a piece in this collection):

We’ll let Jonas Nordberg himself say a few words:

The pieces by Dowland on this album contain an entire musical universe, in which I have spent many years, discovering new layers of meaning. In that way these lessons – in combination with the instrument on which I play them – have also been my teachers. So it is a great pleasure to invite you to share them with me, and to explore for yourselves the rich combination of melancholy, joy and beauty to be found in these works.

Let‘s hear the “Farewell (an ‘In nomine’)”:

In this recording, Jonas Nordberg plays a 9-course lute in G playing at A = 392 Hz  built in 2015 by Lars Jönsson after an original by Magno Tieffenbrucker. He teases out the dances: here's Sir John Smith, His Almain:

While the variety here is vast, it is the way the combination of Dowland and Nordberg drag us into this world that is so compelling. This disc really is hard to turn off once one starts listening, and playing order is carefully considered. Listen to how the joyous Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe and the vibrant The Most High and MIghty Christianus the Fourth, King of Denmark, His Galliard  sandwich that magnificent Semper Dowland semper dolens referenced above:

One of the finest Early Music discs we have covered so far on Classical Explorer - a real treasure!