'Their last foile and polishment': Aspects of compositional refinement in the consort dances of Dowland and Holborne

John Bryan

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In the latter years of the 16th century, dance genres provided increasingly sophisticated vehicles for contrapuntal compositional thought, yet neither John Dowland nor Anthony Holborne appears to have had the detailed training in imitative techniques enjoyed by their colleagues from an ecclesiastical choral or keyboard background. However, when Dowland and Holborne published their collections of five-part dances-Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares figvred in Seaven Passionate Pauans in 1604 and Pavans, Galliards, Almains, and other short Aeirs both graue and light in 1599, respectively-they each presented their music as an anthology of material collected and polished for a discerning listening audience. This article examines some of the technical aspects of their music that the two composers must each have considered in preparing their dance collections for the press, in particular the structure of their dances and the internal length and balance of the strains, their use of contrapuntal devices, their exploitation of the range and tessitura of the individual parts, and the texture and sonority created by their combination. It is proposed that such decisions may have implications for instrumentation and the expressive intentions behind the music. The wider context for such a discussion of individual pieces is considered, and comparisons are made between the approaches of the two composers as well as those of their contemporaries William Byrd and Peter Philips.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-237
Number of pages19
JournalEarly Music
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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