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The Wealth of Themes and Motives in the Art of John Dowland

(Motívum- és témagazdagság John Dowland művészetében)

A formal analysis of the chromatic lute fantasie, Farewell

An abstract of the Master of Music Thesis completed in 2007 at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of
Music, Budapest.

There is no doubt as to the incredible imagination in the compositional style of John Dowland.
The kaleidoscopic transformation and variation of motifs and themes that describes his
compositional style has its roots in the performance practice of the Renaissance lute. In
Dowland’s galliards and other dances this makes a part of the performer’s freedom. This variation
technique seems more conscious in the case of his chromatic lute fantasies, especially the one
entitled Farewell. In midst of the more than 200 extant manuscripts, we can recognise Dowland’s
handwriting only in three cases and find 6 other pieces where he added his signature. The
Dd.5.78., lute book—now belonging to the collection of Cambridge University Library—contains
22 pieces by John Dowland and amongst these Farewell (entitled originally Farwell) is the only
one Dowland signed, which proves that this piece was particularly important in his oeuvre. This
thesis is a formal analysis exploring the motivic development of the chromatic lute fantasie,

Statement and methods

My hypothesis is that the seemingly improvised variation of motifs and themes are part of a
conscious compositional act—as Rudolph Réti says in his book, The Thematic Process in Music
(hereon TPM, US 1951, p.13)—“built from one identical thought”. The composer “strives
toward homogeneity in the inner essence but at the same time towards variety in the outer
appearance. Therefore, he changes the surface but maintains the substance of his shapes” [TPM,
p.13]. In fact my method of formal analysis is very close to the approach of Rudolph Réti. I derived
the fundamental motifs from the first 7 bars of the piece, where the announcement of the
primary theme and the secondary-counterpoint theme happens. I analysed this material and
unfolded it into pitch-cells. In relation to the counterpoint theme I traced a clearly visible parallel
to the famous Flow my tears motif of John Dowland’s Lachrimae. Through a kind of reductionist
approach I finally described this material as the opposition of the two motifs. I defined the
musical essence of Farewell in this dichotomy of rising chromatic line and a falling diatonic
tetrachord, both filling in a T4.
Formal analyses follows with the investigation of the behaviour and transformation of these two
opposite motifs through the whole piece. I accentuated the importance of bar 21, as the negative
golden ratio, a philosophical moment, a confrontation of the two habitus. From that point the
chromatic motif becomes the leading tendency of the musical material.
Critical implication investigates how the inner feeling of unity develops through the reminiscence
of the motivic development.

By deconstructing and analysing the material I could trace a fundamentally philosophical essence
which “changes the surface” but is “built from one identical thought”. Through reminiscence of
these changes we enjoy the clarity and unity of John Dowland’s Farewell.
„Musica est exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi.“2 (Gottfried
Leibniz: Letter to Christian Goldbach, 1712)