Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dowland: Solus cum sola (P 10)


Here is a Dowland piece of which I am particularly fond. It repeatedly features a motif, in various forms, which occurs also in quite a few of his lute solo pieces*. Since Solus cum sola is written for a 6-course lute, it is probably quite early in Mr D's canon, so this might be the first airing of the motif:

John Dowland's favourite (?) motif as it first occurs in Solus cum sola

The lute original is a pavane in the usual 3 strains (A, B, C), the first two followed by divisions or variations (A’, B’), the third by a repeat.

§ A’ looks particularly daunting, but due to the slow beat (44 bpm in Nigel North's recording) it should be achievable with practice. I did try to simplify it, but as I lack Mr D's genius it all sounded a bit bland, so here it is in its full glory.

Strain C caused problems in transcription because much of the activity is on the lower lute strings which, in our case, we do not have. So, in § C the base line is raised an octave, and in § C’ I have taken the liberty of reversing the two voices, which does rather change the feeling of the piece.

It's not too difficult to play if you stick to playing the three main themes (A, B, C) at first. Once they are fixed in the mind, the variations are easier to understand (if not to play.) It being a slow piece, many of the chords sound good if arpeggiated.

Woodcut by Sebald Beham
Say no more!

The title, according to Diana Poulton (see Sources page for refs) is a truncation of the Latin Solus cum sola non cogiabuntur orare pater noster; literally: "A lone man with a lone woman won't be thinking of saying prayers". There seems to be some connection, now lost, with the Fleetwood family of Buckinghamshire: the next pavane (Sola sine sola) was dedicated to Mrs Brigide Fleetwood, whose father had 18 (or possibly 26) children by means of two wives. Not much time for praying there, then.

Poulton and Lam think that the piece is based on "The dilly song", which is a variant of "Green grow the rushes-O" (there's a good Wikipedia article), but it all seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination to me. ["Dilly" is an interesting word: it can be a variant of "silly",  or  where I come from (SE Wales) it means a handcart.]

You can read a fuller analysis of the piece here, although some of the links are extinct.

You can find the transcriptions here:
PS Here is another version (from an MS in the Cambridge University Library) of the division to strain A (ignore the bar numbers):


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* I have been meaning to make a list of all the pieces in which I can detect the motif

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