The music, of the turn of the century, like the visual arts and literature, became more dramaticand expressive, more personal. It tried to reflect the spiritual life and psychological contrasts of the artist. The idea that music imitates the passions or states of soul goes back to ancient Greece(Aristotle,
, 8, 1340a, b; cf. Plato,
, II, 665, 668-70, 812C). In his book
Aristotle wrote about
—the use of strong emotional expressivity as a means to sway anaudience. The Renaissance theorists, artists and musicians scoured the ancient treatises in thehope of discovering the lost secrets of the ancient artistic power. Searching for the aesthetic idealand new expressive devices, Vincenzo Galilei (1533-1591) suggested the renovation of musicthrough a revival of the art of antiquity and all its glories. The new musicians appealed toPythagoras, Plato, to the esoteric wisdom embodied in Hermetic studies, the Jewish Cabbala andtheir own contemporary philosophy based on these teachings.
This was the age of symbol:emblems, numerology, astrology and alchemy were all considered immensely satisfyingsubjects, and most artists of standing were quite conversant with their basic ideas.Musicians, like other artists, employed formal devices that renovated the musical language. Amusical composition was perceived like a well-made speech, intended for ‘trained ears’ andamenable to analysis according to rhetorical figures.
This symbolism and rhetoric in music was,in a way, an extension of the Renaissance idea of
The growing union between rhetoric and music in the latter part of the 16th century developedin all the major musical centers of Europe. In the early 17th century, following the practice inGermany, the widespread application of rhetoric to music was most clearly evidenced inEngland.
The musical expression of affections was not through imitation of natural sounds andmovements, but rather by means of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic formulas or
, which together with symbolism and numerology drawn from Greek culture,were a sign of the new musical lexicon. Not only vocal works with literal texts, but purelyinstrumental compositions too served as examples of such ‘program-music’, where the‘program’ was realized not by a development of dramatic events, as in the post-Beethovenian period, but by a comprehensive description of one
.John Dowland was one of the most remarkable composers of this time to achieve such deepexpression in his works. He was a genius of sorrow and melancholy, which left their mark on both his instrumental music and his songs: such titles as
Flow my tears
In darkness let me dwell
Semper Dowland semper dolens
(Always Dowland, alwayssorrow), etc., express a brooding emotion and discontent with fortune. Without doubt, the titlesof his two chromatic fantasias,
, provide invaluable ‘instructions’ byas to their emotional intent.The fantasias, probably composed at the turn of the 16th century,
illustrate the aesthetic andtechnical features of a new instrumental style and are prominent examples of the artisticexpression. These dramatic compositions are masterpieces of invention for the lute, where themost impressive feature is the complexity of the musical language. The polyphonic writing,chromaticism, dissonances, the methodicalness with which the composer exhausts the polyphonic possibilities and the range of the instrument are traits of the rational instrumentalstyle of the epoch. Dowland’s ingenious utilization of these techniques make the fantasiasoutstanding not only in the lute repertory, but in the contemporary solo instrumental music ingeneral. The importance of Dowland’s fantasias is so obvious that the possible influence of hiscompositions on the contemporary keyboard music is discussed in modern musicological studies.
For the musical expression of the
the two fantasias introduce a number of specialcharacteristics, the most prominent of which is a new musical lexicon using
One such powerful melodic figure known in esoteric circles was a perfect fourth—ahighly significant interval in numerology and musical symbolism. When filled in by semitonesthis figure was termed the ‘chromatic fourth’, ‘chromatic tetrachord’ or ‘chromatic hexachord’.Both fantasias take this melodic formula for their theme, which is placed in ascending anddescending in