This famous piece started out as a solo lute pavan by John Dowland some time before 1595. The first printed version occurs as a song in pavan form, with the subtitle ‘Lacrime’, in his Second Booke of Songs (1600), and there is the famous ‘passionate pavan’ for consort, Lachrymae Antiquae, which he published as the opening work of Lachrymae, or Seaven teares (1604). Numerous keyboard adaptations of this magnificent ‘16-bar’ pavan exist, by Giles Farnaby (FVB No 290), Cosyn, Melchior Schmidt, Sweelinck and Scheidemann, as well as several anonymous versions. A pavan and galliard by Morley (FVB Nos 153/154) are clearly a more general homage to Dowland, starting with a much freer reference to Lachrymae.
It has recently been suggested that Lachrymae might have originated as a homage to either Marenzio’s 6-voice madrigal Parto da voi mio sole (1585) or Lassus’s Penitential Psalm Domine ne in furore tuo, since both works appear to contain the opening motto theme (the Lassus is particularly striking, at the words Laboravi in gemitu meo). However, I am also struck by the similarity of the famous motto to the opening of the French chanson by Dominique Phinot, Plorez mes yeux, plorez à chaudes larmes; this first phrase was quoted in the Instruction methodique & fort facile pour apprendre la Musique Practique (p. 49) by the Dutch musician Cornelius Blockfort [Corneille de Montfort], printed in 1573, 1581 and 1587; Dowland could easily have known it.
Of all the keyboard arrangements, Byrd’s is the finest and certainly the least mechanical (although the surviving text of Sweelinck’s version is unfortunately notoriously corrupt and probably simplified). Byrd’s point of departure was the original lute version, not the song nor the consort piece, but whereas most of the other keyboard versions are in A minor, Byrd transposes it up into D minor, lifting the work into a more singing part of the instrument. This also allows for richer harmonic textures underneath and, more significant, places the important expressive notes higher. The first 16-bar strain has F as the highest note, the second strain has G, and the last has A, the top note of Byrd’s keyboard. This corresponds closely to the effect on the lute since this highest note would have been played on the highest tied fret of the top string. (Byrd also transposed Monsieur’s Alman, BK44, up a fourth, for similar reasons.)
Faced with Dowland’s great song, Byrd ‘responds with the unmistakeable sympathy that he usually reserves for popular music. The spacious pavan framework allows him room not merely for the most imaginative flights of figuration, but for far-reaching elaboration of the melody and contrapuntal reflection upon it ... His excursions away from his model do not aim at correction, like those in Johnson’s Delight, but pay it the compliment of treating it as a source of inspiration’ (Neighbour, p 172).
Dowland’s own lute galliard to Lachrymae is a later composition and was first published only in 1612. Byrd’s arrangement of the pavan must predate this since he uses a different lute galliard, but his version is so clearly in his latest style that it must surely date from when he was at least 60 or 65. The fine galliard he chose, by the lutenist James Harding, is associated with Dowland’s own Lachrymae in some lute sources. It is typical of the more modern style of galliard in which, because of the faster semiquavers, a slower basic tempo is required. (See If my complaints, for a Dowland galliard arranged by Byrd.)
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999