Dowland or O'Dolan?

Jul 17, 2014

John Dowland - international man of mystery.
Credit WikiCommons

The man of mystery, the enigmatic composer and lutenist, John Dowland (1563 –  1626) has been on my mind lately.

Periodically, I go through these heavy Dowlandesque periods where I immerse myself in his profound songs, finger-tangling lute music or his soft and sorrowful music for viols.

You see, there are more than a few of us who believe that Dowland, among a myriad of other Renaissance composers, never get a fair shake in the world of classical music. They are largely ignored and it is duly noted.

I can't help but feel and see the inequality. Classical audiences can be divided into devout subgroups: opera fans swoon over scratchy recordings of golden pipes long departed and rejoice at the latest MET productions. The latest wunderkind pianist or violinist dominate the classical concert stage. The symphony may be king, but close to the crown is the piano or violin concerto. All this music making is so far away from the delicate Renaissance.

But, speaking for myself, this all seems a bit barbaric and bloated in comparison to the sweetly soft and sublime songs of Dowland:

Come again! sweet love doth now invite
Thy graces that refrain
To do me due delight,
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die,
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

Songs that need no more accompaniment than a lute! You'll pardon my comparing the majority of classical music to barbarism, but I must admit to sometimes feeling a bit estranged by the spectacle and grandiosity of mainstream classical. I am a guitarist after all and kin to all strings plucked: the lute, the vihuela, etc. Ergo, all things soft and easily drowned out by the piano (Which Segovia called, " a monster!") or almost any solo instrument.

Michael Slattery.
Credit Peter Hurley. Photos for press use.

All the preamble above set aside, Michael Slattery's album Dowland in Dublin is essential listening. It embodies all the goodness of Dowland with an Irish flair. Lovely, just lovely.

I did an interview with American tenor Michael Slattery in 2012 which I thought might be fine to bring out again. His album, Dowland in Dublin, is superb and within the title contains a scholarly premise that suggests Dowland was actually O'Dolan of Irish descent.

Listen to the lovely voice and interview with Michael Slattery.