Thursday, 21 September 2017

Dowland: Forlorn hope (P 2)

John Dowland wrote two extraordinary pieces that are unusual in being based on fragments of the chromatic scale. My previous post included a transcription of Farwell (fantasie), in which the notes ascended. The present transcription is of Forlorn hope (fancye), in which the movement of the chromatic scale is downwards.

The first few bars are not too difficult. But, bars 28 – 35 are very challenging (in the lute transcription each bar takes up a whole line), so I have done some simplification by eliminating what appeared to be the least significant notes,  although all the notes shown are Dowland's own and in the right order. I have appended a fuller version after bar 36.

Played on the lute, this piece really lives up to its name. It starts with a wistful melancholy, which progresses to a frantic despair, the bass notes and discordant harmonies going straight to ones guts.

The arrangement for ukulele, try as I may, fails: I publish it here as a curiosity.

I think that the problem is that Forlorn hope depends much more on the resonance of the bass strings than does Farwell, and the harmonies really need the full voicings of the lute version to be appreciated. Also, the discordant wide intervals, so moving on the lute, sound awful when compressed to make them fit on the ukulele.

Well, you can't win them all!


Matchlock Musketeer: Elizabethan infantry, 1588-1603, Stephen Walsh


By the way, in Dowland's period (according to http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/forlorn-hope.html) the phrase "forlorn hope" meant
"... a robust and gung-ho band of soldiers. 
Each troop in the British Army had a hand-picked group of men, chosen for their ferocity and indifference to risk (and occasionally by using that tried and tested military method of "I want three volunteers. You, you and you."). They were the army's 'attack dogs' who risked all in reckless death or glory raids on the enemy."
(Come to think of it, perhaps I was reckless in trying to transcribe this piece.)

So, which interpretation do we go with: the literal or the military?

If you're still curious you can find the piece in the following formats:

  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (the intentional discords sound very harsh, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's writing.)


As time goes by, and I get more familiar with the piece, I may well tweak the tabs further.

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I hope you enjoy these arrangements. I would welcome your views, and comments on possible errors or improvements.