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In darkness let me dwell...
John Dowland, Jana Lewitová, Vladimír Merta

In Darkness Let Me Dwell... 

   F10169   [8595017416927]   released 9/2008

play album In Darkness Let Me Dwell - Lewitová, Merta 69:48 149Kč
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1. Now, O now I need must part 4:01 15Kč
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2. Stékejte slzy 1:13 15Kč
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3. Flow my tears 7:00 15Kč
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4. Come again 3:29 15Kč
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5. Krystalky slz 1:01 15Kč
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6. Go crystal tears 4:22 15Kč
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7. If my complaints 2:44 15Kč
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8. Má paní plakala 1:22 15Kč
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9. I saw my lady weep 4:49 15Kč
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10. Who ever thinks 4:24 15Kč
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11. Za vznešený kabát cti 1:20 15Kč
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12. Can she excuse 5:10 15Kč
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13. Zelené rukávy 3:56 15Kč
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14. Vím já jeden háječek 5:15 15Kč
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15. Dotěrné myšlenky 0:52 15Kč
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16. Unquiet thoughts 4:00 15Kč
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17. Postůj, postůj smutku 1:32 15Kč
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18. Sorrow, sorrow stay 3:38 15Kč
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19. Rest, sweet nymphs 3:53 15Kč
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20. Ve tmě mě zanechte 1:16 15Kč
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21. In darkness let me dwell 3:39 15Kč
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Jana Lewitová: vocal, viola, harp
Vladimír Merta:  vocal, lutes, baritone guitar, 12string guitar, bratch, viola da gamba, flutes, percussion

Zdenka Kopečná: vocal (1, 4, 12)
Hana Fleková: viola da gamba (3, 6, 9)


If Musique and sweet Poetrie agree,
As they must needes [the Sister and the Brother],
Then must the Love be great, twixt thee and mee,
Because thou lovest the one, and I the other.
Dowland to thee is deare; whose heavenly tuch
Upon the Lute, doeth ravish humaine sense...    

                                       Richard Barnfield, 1598

In translating the lyrics of Dowland songs, which I have been doing for about thirty years now, I have tried to create a world I could enter without obstacles. I have adapted some of the songs so that instead of a man it is a woman who is expressing an unhappy relationship. I wanted to be able to read out the lyrics in concerts in a way that would convey the mood and essence of the message, but would take less time than performing the songs. In this recording, Vladimír improvises on various instruments in the spirit of the lyrics, thus creating new forms that act as bridges between us and Dowland. Only for the translation of the last, most mysterious song, ‘In darkness let me dwell’, did we use music we had previously recorded.
     The strophic songs ‘Now, O now I needs must part’, ‘If my complaints could passions move’, and ‘Can she excuse my wrongs’ are in the rhythm of the galliard. The songs ‘Come again’, ‘Who ever thinks or hopes’, and ‘Unquiet thoughts’ are in the rhythm of the allemande. The words in them dance masterfully. Beneath ‘Flow, my tears – Lacrimae’ one feels the lofty rhythm of the pavan, but the lyrics, as in the whole free-form, non-strophic songs ‘Sorrow, stay’ and ‘In darkness let me dwell’, speak through a melody which, in the fabric of the lute’s voices, anticipate, develop, and complete the words.
Who wrote the lyrics? Was it a courtier whose name could not be stated? Was the Earl of Essex the author of ‘Can she excuse my wrongs’? Was a popular Italian sonnet the model for ‘I saw my lady weep’? Was it given its final shape by Dowland? The three songs, ‘Flow my tears’, ‘Sorrow, stay’, and ‘In darkness let me dwell’ are so personal and intimate that one wonders whether Dowland wrote them himself.
     It appears that melancholia, which in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England was a kind of universal diagnosis (Dowland signed his name ‘Semper Doland semper dolens’ [Dowland ever doleful], or ‘Doland de Lacrimae’ [Dowland, author of ‘Lacrimae’ or Dowland in tears]), is close to today’s sentiments, despite the gulf of four centuries. ‘Musique and sweete Poetrie’ sounds familiar, consoling.
     Most of the pieces on this recording come from the First Booke of Songes. The songs ‘Flow my tears’, ‘I saw my lady weep’, and ‘Sorrow, stay’ are from the Second Booke of Songes. The song ‘In darkness let me dwell’ is from A Musical Banquet (1610).

Jana Lewitová

THE UNQUIET THOUGHTS OF MR D.
If you know how to stop and look over the shoulder of your own shadow, you will encounter someone inwardly similar to yourself. It is as if you had already travelled, in another time, through familiar lands and found the prototype or archetype of beauty.

Dowland is a contemporary of ours about whom we can reminisce. We experience his pains, sighs, unfulfilled desires and deftly eroticized verse as if it were our own.
      The highly charged moment of human history linked all the creative forces of the period in a single person tossed about by passion and personal ambition. Truly great art is spontaneous, personal, engaged, accessible yet mysterious. The first balladeer of Europe was called John Dowland. On the boundary of solitude, misfortune, ecstasy, the luxury of poverty and the poverty of luxurious feelings, in the limitations of the period, an abject servant of Mistress Music, he built a unique rainbow, a symbol of the coalescing of words and music, of the earth and the heavens.
      His times, fraught with troubles, were favourably inclined to the dissemination of intellectual goods amongst the general public. The world was opening up in terms of commerce, geography, and power. The lute served in monasteries as a light, portable instrument for the daily study and mastery of the rudiments of harmony. Magnanimous Elizabethan England had been waiting for an eminent figure that would enter the modern age with a flourish and distance the song from the hack musicians of the street. Word painting, well-composed accompaniment, the interplay between lute and melodic variation, the balancing of the chords with the timbre of the voice, the close linking of melody and the intellectual orientation of the lyrics – these are the innovations with which Dowland established the lasting appeal of songs entirely by a single writer. The ups and downs of the lone lutenist, the itinerant genius, who creates in moments of rare inner freedom, are reminiscent of today’s drifter searching for peace and quiet and enlightenment, ecstasy and reconciliation simultaneously.
     The ‘Golden Age’ of the ballad with words and music by a single songwriter arrived at roughly the same time as the achievements of Elizabethan theatre or at least right on its heels. Dowland counted on a generally prepared, politically oriented audience of commoners, who appreciated his contemporary allusions and quips, but also on blissful repose in the ephemeral, dreamy lands of mythic Arcadia. Solitary bliss, lofty solitude, the explosive combination of words that repel one another like holy oil and ordinary water. The romantic poetic gesture, the gloomy vision of the world in decay, passion, and fading hope. A composer of moods, he was inconspicuous, an openly secret agent. He saw more than he was permitted to say. Grievous melancholy is a reaction to an inward conflict, which was made banal by the later Romantic tradition. The charismatic lutenist added brilliance to the faded society of the court.
     Dowland surely played from memory, dreamily, gazing somewhere beyond space and time. He was the first lutenist who set out to travel round the musical world, soaking in the cosmopolitan sensibility of waning Mannerism and the Early Baroque. He returned to England with a new sense of life. In those days lutenists usually mastered several instruments, and most of them sang too.
     The tablature brings to mind a secret code, a graphic learning aid, which even a jazz musician appreciates like contemporary chord symbols. The six lines of the notation, resembling the lines of the staff, signify the lute fretboard from the perspective of the player. The bass strings are below and the highest tone is just above the upper line. We are therefore reading the fingering of the composer’s hand on the instrument rather than abstract notation. We see the fingering of the Master himself. Unlike today’s sheet music, however, the tablature does not develop abstract imagination. (The notation does not determine whether the tone is high or low. The letter k on the second string sounds higher than the open string a on the upper string.) Composers also wrote virtuoso compositions so that even their high-born patrons could play them. The patron was an educated amateur, whom compositions were written for with inventive verbal packaging.
Dowland was not an independent artist; he was more like an under-appreciated wandering virtuoso. Several decades later, Genoa, Venice, Milan, Padua, and Prague would make him a star of private musical gatherings (or ‘salons’). A feeling of limitation, ingratitude, and a burning desire to rise above the position of an itinerant genius to become the teacher of the queen, a clandestine platonic lover, always made him return to his native England.
     According to his own letters he may have also played the role of a rather hypocritical spy, a messenger whose ears overhead state military secrets between arpeggiated chords. Dowland, isolated in the world of great intrigue, troubled by doubts, overwhelmed by melancholia. Lively teasing continues in the small family of lutenists to this day: after hearing a few notes from me, my first English lute teacher asked mockingly: ‘How many people in this country play the lute?’ ‘Fifteen,’ I replied. His face lit up, and he said: “Congratulations! You’re the sixteenth best lute player in Bohemia!’
     How can we even approach bringing to life the original sheet music of 1595, and with what conventions or compromises? What was the level of playing and singing in the days when the lute was passed from hand to hand, over the table covered with fruit and delicacies? The song served blissfully to pass the time, like wine and storytelling. It was spread by mischievous students. Beer, the only boiled beverage, was recommended for babies. The original folk ballads reveal ‘Renaissance’ elements of expression: acciaccatura, inverted mordents, improvised ornament. And, on the other hand, most of the folk dances were eventually raised to the ranks of serious music. The astounding stream of variations, improvisations, echos, and versatility attracts today’s jazz player as well. ‘Don’t look for music in the paper! It’s in your head. Alternate ordinary arpeggiated chords as well! The notation serves only as an aid to improvisation,’ Evangelina Mascardi, that rare creature of the courses in the town of Prachatice, used to tell us.
     The solitude of the great Dowland is felt by each of his pupils. If there is a reincarnation of Dowland somewhere today, it is Hopkinson Smith. This renowned, strict teacher impressed upon us the art of finding, maintaining, and correctly sounding each and every tone. The fleeting magic of the vibration of the doubled lute string, an ideal of sound, which plunges back into the instrument only to return, through the artfully decorated sound hole, to the immediacy of the moment. Oh, the suffering from the hours when we, one after another, repeated the same mistakes!
     The lute came from Arabia; it was plucked with a quill. The instrument symbolized the link between mathematics and magic. To this day it remains an eternal mystery, unclassifiable for the instrument maker. Dowland’s lute can be imagined as a guitar with doubled strings (called ‘courses’), above which there is another, the chanterelle, a solo string adding melodic colour. (In virtuoso playing, the Baroque lute or guitar takes the place of the Renaissance lute.) The bass strings below the range descend diatonically; they are not muted, and add rich overtones to the lute. The thirteen-course chitarone and the Baroque guitar are coming into fashion as highly audible rhythm instruments, adding the basso continuo of a harpsichord or a chamber organ. Most of the conversations amongst lutenists concern technical questions: What kind of instrument should you get? How do you read the unclear places in the tablature? How do you maintain style while adding ornament, rapture, and the spark of one’s own imagination to the dry written notation? Lutenists constitute a bizarre, stubborn, creative little family. To come to the lute from the guitar means giving up playing with one’s nails to achieve that bell-like folk tone, and to set out instead into the uncertain field of playing with the flesh of one’s fingers, and to find a relaxed approach within an order that must be acknowledged, adopted as one’s own, and adhered to, so that one can then inconspicuously vary it in one’s own way. The guitarist who thinks he or she can tame the lute by what he or she already knows will long suffer the stiffness of the beginning lutenist. The musician with the bluesman’s soul starts from the other end: little technique, lots of feeling, excessive stylization, like a vagabond drifting through life. The lutenist of the High Renaissance, however, stood with his or her art, not yet tested by time, in a dark corner of the banquet hall. The Renaissance songs illuminated even the dark corners of the music rooms muted with heavy drapes.
      After many experiments in the basement, the kitchen, and various chapels and churches, which today quake with the bass frequencies of passing cars, the howling of chainsaws, and the roar of aircraft overhead, we chose a little half-forgotten church in Choteč near Prague. It was full of buckets, boards, bags of cement and the lunches of masons who sat here with the roofers. The sublime quiet was occasionally disturbed by the humming of telephones. In the music of Dowland we hear an endeavour not only to describe and reflect the times, but also to add his own personal dimension to it. To try with an individual gesture to compel the times to be better. A lutenist is thus also a bit of composer. Since Dowland normally created variations on themes of well-known ballads and dances, one wonders how a Moravian ballad about the ruin of love might have inspired him. I have taken a guess in a splendidly constructed song about the beauty and frustration of dying love. The dispute between the terrestrial, the animal, and, on the other hand, the nostalgia of the sublime distances and spiritual detachment from this dissolute earth continues. We recognize in it our unattractive problem with the openness of the songwriter’s soul – and its weaknesses, collapsing under the weight of power and ambition.
     Dowland aimed high, but he did not find his moorings on the right side. His letters and notes to patrons, typical of the times, with requests to be appointed Royal Lutenist, reveal another (though not petty) side of his genius. Aware of his own value he asked the impossible of the English court. The times were lax – the Queen’s minions set out on pirate expeditions; her ships conquered America, returning with news of sources of exceedingly tempting riches. The hypersensitive genius hunched over his precious instrument perceived all the new discoveries as a threat to his own merits, attitudes, and abilities. His songs are based on a chamber-music tradition, with declamation employing breathing and free phrasing. To this day the folk tradition draws from the changes of his major-minor phrases. Or did his genius adopt them from folk dances?
     If Dowland is not the first of the contemporary songwriters, he surely remains their unmatchable guru. He went beyond his own horizons, the limitations of his style, and the deceitfulness of the times. Did his songs reach as high as royalty and as low as the countryside pub? His melodies to this day create a recognizable, distinctive inspiration for others. He found his own fateful theme, poetic truth, a singular technique of polyphonic voice leading, yet he did not wander off into the heights of affected virtuosity. He educated a devoted, comprehending, and creative audience. Raised high above the vanity of the times, with his sensibility and his weaknesses he tricked the eternal dimness of the powers that be, and made our world more harmonious. It is not enough merely to imitate him. Lutenists continue to follow in his footsteps, in order to lose themselves on the same crossroads of emotion, hardship, vexation, and ecstasy, on which someone else has already stood. His tablatures are today easily accessible on the Web. But where did the shy companion of contemporary carouses and the participant in disputes and passionate conflicts vanish to? From the cruel sea of oblivion, his magic name glows like a torch in our hands, in itself a ringing, alluring melody: John Dowland.

Vladimír Merta

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