John Dowland

(02/01/1563 - 20/02/1626)

John Dowland (1563-1626) is a composer, virtuoso lutenist, and skilled singer who Dowland Road is named after.

Dowland’s place of birth is unknown. It is claimed to be Dalkey by Irish composer and musicologist, W.H. Grattan Flood, although this has not been proven.

In 1580 Dowland went to Paris, where he was in service to Sir Henry Cobham, the ambassador to the French court, and his successor Sir Edward Stafford. At this time he became a Roman Catholic.  Around 1584, Dowland moved back to England and married. 

In 1594 a vacancy for a lutenist came up at the English court, but Dowland’s application was unsuccessful; he claimed that this was because of his religion however, his conversion had not been publicised, and being Catholic did not prevent other musicians, such as William Byrd,  from having a court career.

From 1598 Dowland worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark, while  continuing to publish in London. King Christian was very interested in music and paid Dowland a lucrative salary making him one of the highest-paid servants of the Danish court. Although Dowland was highly regarded by King Christian, he was unreliable, often overstaying his leave when he went to England on publishing business or for other reasons. Dowland was dismissed in 1606 and returned to England. 

In early 1612  he gained favour at the court of King James I (James VI of Scotland). He was a friend and contemporary of Shakespeare, and it is inferred that his knowledge of the Danish Court was used by the Bard in Hamlet.

He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as “Come, heavy sleep”, “Come again”, “Flow my tears”, “I saw my Lady weepe”, “Now o now I needs must part” and “In darkness let me dwell”. His instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century’s early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

Flow My Tears was his most famous piece.

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exiled forever let me mourn,
Where nights blackbird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

He dedicates his work From Silent Night to “my loving countryman” Mr John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, Ireland. The Forsters were a prominent Dublin family at the time, providing several Lord Mayors to the city

Sting’s 2006 album Songs from the Labyrinth features Dowland’s music.

While the date of his death is not known, Dowland’s last payment from the court was on 20 January 1626. He was buried at St Ann’s, Blackfriars, London, on 20 February 1626.

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