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Harmonia Uncut: Les Voix Humaines and Dowland's Teares

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Welcome to Harmonia Uncut, the podcast that brings you modern performances of old music.  I’m Wendy Gillespie, and the time machine is taking us to Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver on Nov. 1, 2019. There, Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols and lutenist Nigel North combined music of John Dowland with Early Music Vancouver’s newly commissioned music by Stacey Brown.

Dowland’s music is drawn from his 1604 publication entitled: Lachrimae, or seaven teares figured in seaven passionate Pavans, with divers other Pavans, Galiards, and Almans, set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons, in five parts.

Clever marketing – the more ways the music can be performed, the more copies it is likely to sell. The seven passionate pavans are all closely connected to Dowland’s well-known lute solo Lacrimae and his lute song known as “Flow my tears.” The first pavan in the collection, Lacrimae Antiquae, is simply a setting in five voices of that very tune.

Legions of lute players have shed oceans of tears over the technical and musical challenges of the music. Imagine trying to play all five parts simultaneously adding loads of extra notes running all over the instrument, ornamenting every single cadence, and you’ll begin to imagine what is required of the lutenist. Let’s listen to Dowland’s third pavan, Lacrimae Gementes, or “Sighing Tears.”

Music 1

I Heart Radio classifies Lacrimae in its “easy listening” category. Oh dear – really?

The viols of Les Voix Humaines and lutenist Nigel North poured their hearts out in Dowland’s Lacrimae Gementes from his 1604 publication of Lacrimae. It is worth saying that in the introduction to his publication, Dowland says that “though the title doth promise tears, unfit guests in these joyful times, yet no doubt pleasant are the tears that music weeps. Neither are tears shed always in sorrow but sometime in joy and gladness.” The pavans all carry descriptive adjectives, the final one called “True tears” Lacrimae Verae.

Is there a narrative in this musical journey? Not surprisingly, opinions vary. I’ve heard the cycle described as a journey through the seven planets. Some feel the all pavans belong together in performance; others intersperse the pavans with other dances; some give the lutenist an occasional break, others give the lutenist extra solos. Les Voix Humaines gave Nigel a break for Mr. Henry Noel, His Galliard.  Let’s hear that, and then Mr. North will rejoin the ensemble for Mr. George Whitehead, his Almand.

Music 2

From a concert on November 1, 2019 presented in Vancouver at Christ Church Cathedral, Nigel North joined Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols – Melisande Coriveau, Felix Deak, Margaret Little, Marie-Laurens Primeau and Suzie Napper. Many thanks to Margaret Little for making this wonderful performance available to us.

We’d be interested to hear what you think about anything you heard on this podcast. You can find Harmonia on Facebook, or make a comment any time on Harmonia dot org. This has been the Harmonia Uncut podcast, and I’m Wendy Gillespie, thanks for joining me.
Title page to a concert by Les Voix called Lachrimae.

The Canadian ensemble Les Voix Humaines, joined by lutenist Nigel North, sent excerpts from their November 1, 2019 concert at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver. Listen to some very beautiful and unusual interpretations of the music of John Dowland from his 1604 publication Lacrimae, or Seaven Teares.


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