John Dowland (1563-1626) was one of the greatest musicians of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, and his lute songs are among the most highly developed vocal works in the Western tradition. Having spent his late adolescence in France, the influence of the air de cour – most likely those of guitarist Adrian Le Roy – seems most natural of a model for Dowland’s airs. But his genius lay in his distinctive blend of continental styles, an overriding element of English lyricism, and the directness of the profound melancholy that dominates his work – a trait much in accord with aspects of the Elizabeth spirit.
One of the few English musicians whose fame as a composer spread throughout Europe during his lifetime, John Dowland was also unsurpassed in his day as a lute virtuoso.
His talent, however, were welcomed at courts in Germany, Venice, Florence, and Denmark.
John Dowland published eighty-eight lute songs. Eighty-five appeared in four volumes,
the remaining in his son’s anthology of 1610, called A Musicall Banquet. The immensely popular First Booke of Songes or Ayres, published in 1597 – the first English publication for voice and lute – was reprinted five times during the composer’s life. No other composer of lute songs was so complimented, or was any other book of this type reprinted even once.
David Nadal. John Dowland’s lute songs 2002