‘A pleasing melancholy’ is how Robert Burton described the feeling that certain music can give rise to, in his The Anatomy of Melancholy from 1621. Some 20 years earlier John Dowland, melancholic par excellence, had expressed a similar idea in the dedication of his Lachrimae, or Seven Tears: ‘pleasant are the tears which music weeps’.
During this period in England, melancholia had become fashionable, especially in cultural and literary circles, and spawned countless poems, paintings and songs. When Dowland’s lute song Flow My Tears was published in 1600, the instrumental Lachrimae Pavan on which it was based had been in circulation for several years and was the composer’s ‘number one hit’ both in England and on the continent – and four years after the song, he returned to the music and varied it in the ‘seven tears’ for viol consort and lute.
Colleagues of Dowland such as Robert Jones and John Danyel explored similar moods and emotions in their own songs, sometimes – as in Danyel’s Eyes look no more – making clear allusions to Dowland’s famous pavan. The Chelys Consort of Viols released their first disc in 2015 to critical acclaim. For the present recording they are joined by lutenist James Akers, and Emma Kirkby, the English soprano who has long been a leading figure in the field of early music.