Walter Bitner

Home » prefatory matter to John Dowland: The First Booke of Songes or Ayres

prefatory matter to John Dowland: The First Booke of Songes or Ayres

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John Dowland In His Own Words

The Lute Appendix iv b


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Baron of Hunsdon, Captaine of her Majesties gentlemen Pensioners,
Gouernor of the Isle of Wight, Lieutenant of the countie of the Southt.
Lord Chamberlaine of her Majesties most Royall house, and of
her Highness most honourable priuie Counsell.

THAT harmony (Right honorable) which is skilfullie exprest by Instruments, albeit, by reason of the variety of number & proportion of it selfe it easilie stirs up the minds of the hearers to admiration & delight, yet for higher authoritie and power hath been ever worthily attributed to that kinde of Musicke, which to the sweetnes of instrument applies the liuely voice of man, expressing some worthy sentence or excellent Poeme. Hence (as al antiquitie can witnesse) first grew the heavenly Art of musicke: for Linus, Orpheus, and the rest, according to the number and time of their Poemes, first framed the numbers and times of musick: So that Plato defines melody to consist of harmony, number, & words; harmony naked of if selfe, words the ornament of harmony, number the common friend & vniter of them both. This small booke containing the content of speaking harmony, joyned with them most musicall instrument, the Lute, being my first labour, I have presumed to dedicate to your Lordship, who for your vertue & nobility are best able to protect it, and for your honourable fauors towards me best deserving my duety and seruice. Besides your noble inclination and loue to all good Artes, and namely the diuine science of musicke doth challenge the patronage of all learning, then which no greater title can bee added to Nobilitie. Neither in these your honors may I let passe the dutifull remembrance of your vertuous Lady my honourable mistres, whose singular graces towards me haue added spirit to my vnfortunte labours. What time and diligence I have bestowed in the search of Musicke, what travel in forren countries, what sucesse and estimation euen among strangers I haue found, I leaue to the report of others. Yet all this in vaine, were it not that your honorable hands haue vouchsaft to vphold my poore fortunes, which I now wholy recommend to your gracious protection, with these my first endeuors, humbly beseeching you to accept, and cherish thē with your continued fauors.


Your Lordships most humble seruant,
Iohn Dowland



To the courteous Reader.

HOW hard an enterprise it is in this skilful and curious age to commit our private labours to the publike view, mine one disabilitie, and others hard successe doe too well assure me: and were it not for that loue I beare to the true louers of musicke, I had concealde these my first fruits, which how they will thriue with your taste I know not, howsoever the greater part of them might haue been ripe inough by their age. The Courtly judgement I hope will not be feuere against them, being itselfe a party, and those sweet springs of humanity (I mean our two famous Vniversities) will entertain them for his sake, whome they haue already grace’s, and as it were enfranchisd in the ingenuous profession of Musicke, which from my childhoode I haue euer aymed at, sundry times leauing my natiue countrey, the better to attain so excellent a science. About sixteene yeeres past, I trauelled the chiefest parts of France, a nation furnisht with great variety of Musicke: But lately, being more of a confirmed judgement, I bent my course toward the famous prouinces of Germany, where I founde both excellent masters, and most honorable Patrons of Musicke: Namely, those two miracles of this age for vertue and magnificence, Henry Julio  Duke of Brunswick, and learned Maritius Lantzgraue of Hessen, of whose princely vertues and fauors towards me I can neuer speak sufficientlie. Neither can I gorget the kindnes of Alexandro Horologio, a right learned master of Musicke, seruant to the royal Prince the Lantzgraue of Hessen, and  Gregorio Howet Lutenist to the magnificent Duke of Brunswick, both whome I name as well for their loue to me, as also for their excellency in their faculties. Thus hauing spent some moneths in Germany, to my great admiration of that worthy country, I past ouer the Alpes into Italy, where I founde the Cities furnisht with all good Artes but especiallie Musicke. What fauour and estimation I had in Uenice,Padua, Ferrara, Florence, & diuers other places I willingly suppresse, least I should any way seems partiall in mine owne indeuours. Yet can I not dissemble the great content I found in the proferd amity of the most famous Luca Marenzio, whose sundry letters I receiued from Rome, and one of them, because it is but short, I haue thought good to set downe, not thinking it any disgrace to be proud of the iudgement of so excellent a man.


Molto Magnifico Signior mio ossereuandissimo.

Per una lettera del Signior Alberigo Maluezi ho inteso quanto con cortese assetto smostri desideroso di essermi congionto d’amicizia, doue infinitamente la ringratio di questo suo buon’ animo, osserendomegli all’ incontro se in alcuna cosa la posso seruire, poi che gli meriti delle sue infinite uirtu, & qualita meritano che ogni uno & me l’ammirino & osseruino, & per fine di questo le baseio le mani. Di Roma a’ 13. di Luglio. 1595.

D.V.S. Affettionatissimo seruitore,
Luca Marenzio.


[My most magnificent sir.

Through a letter from Signor Alberigo Malvezzi I have discovered with what courteous affection you have shown your wish to connect with me in friendship, whence I thank you infinitely for this good spirit, offering to meet you if I can serve you in any way, since the merits of your infinite virtuosity and qualities deserve that all myself included admire and observe them, and to this end I kiss your hands. From Rome, the 13th of July. 1595.

Your Lordship’s very affectionate servant,
Luca Marenzio.]

(translation thanks to the good offices of Andrew Dell’Antonio)




Not to stand to long vpon my trauels, I will onely name that worthy maister Giouanni Crochio Vicemaster of the chappel of S.Marks in Uenice, with whom I had familiar conference. And thus what experience I could gather abroad, I am now ready to practise at home, if I may but find encouragement in my first assaies. There haue bin diuers Lute lessons of mine lately printed without my knowledge, falce and vnperfect, but I purpose shortly my selfe to set forth the choisest of all my Lessons in print, and also an introduction for fingering, with other books of Songs, whereof this is the first: and, as this finds fauour with you, so shall I be affected to labor in the rest. Farewell.

John Dowland.


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Digital scores of The First Booke of Songes or Ayres at the International Music Score Library Project may be found here.

return to Appendix iv John Dowland In His Own Words

go to The Lute: Table of Contents

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