Not much is known of John Dowland's early years, although it is documented that he travelled to France with English ambassador Sir Henry Cobham in 1580. There he converted to Catholicism, a decision he later believed led to Queen Elizabeth I's refusal to employ him as court lutenist. This was in spite of many of his compositions having been played at court, and he left the country to seek patronage elsewhere. He was graciously received at Brunswick, and on his travels around Europe helped foil a Catholic plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Composing for voice and lute, he collected a set of works for publication in 1597, notating them so that they might be sung either solo or as partsongs.
From 1598 he was court lutenist to Christian IV of Denmark, and the success of his first compendium led him to compile further works. He returned to England in 1606 having spent far more than his handsome income allowed for, and entered the employ of Lord Walden. His bitterness towards the English court was tempered when he was appointed one of King James I's lutenists in 1612, which marked the start of a period of personal satisfaction but scant productivity.
Dowland drew great accolades for his settings - Shakespeare and Campion praised him in verse. The text and the music are skilfully entwined in the polyphony of the time, and although many of the poems set are unattributed it is possible Dowland, a capable poet himself, wrote many or all of them. He wrote many pieces for solo lute and numerous psalm settings.
- MIDI FILE - Fantasie (3'20'')
- MIDI FILE - A shepherd in a shade (1'03'')