Elizabethan music: "Come Again"

In Elizabethan London you would find music being played in many different settings. The new Protestant churches – which of course had rung with the Catholic mass only a few years before – now rang with new choral music written by composers like Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. Although the style drew heavily on earlier traditions, texts tended increasingly to be sung in English rather than Latin.

In the streets ballad-singers would compete for attention with street-sellers and beggars, much as buskers do in the city today. Their repertoire would generally have been from the folk tradition, but often the tunes were given new words to reflect current events or interests. There was quite an industry selling hand-written paper copies (called broadsides) of these popular ballads.

At the theatre too you would hear music, at least in the latter part of the Elizabethan period. Many of Shakespeare’s plays contain songs which would have been accompanied by musicians sitting on a balcony at the back of the stage.

Music was an important part of court life. The Queen herself, as befits a Renaissance monarch, played both the lute and the virginal (an early keyboard instrument). The viol (an early violin) and the hautboy (a sort of oboe) were other popular instruments played by court musicians to entertain and accompany dancing. It was not only the Queen who employed her own musicians. Any nobleman with respect for himself would have a house musician to entertain himself and his guests.

One such house musician was John Dowland (1563–1626). Although he never achieved his ambition to become court musician to the Queen, his compositions enjoyed great popularity.

In many ways his work has similarities with that of many modern singer-songwriters. His lyrics are melancholy and introverted and concern the trials of love. In the words of British rock star Sting, who made an album of Dowland’s song in 2006 (Songs from the Labyrinth): “For me they are pop songs written around 1600 and I relate to them in that way; beautiful melodies, fantastic lyrics, and great accompaniments.”

The following song from The Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597) paints a passionate picture of romantic love. When you have listened to the song, discuss briefly what the songwriter is actually saying in modern everyday English.

 

Come Again

By John Lowland

 

Come again:
Sweet love doth now invite,
Thy graces that refrain, to do me due delight,
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

Come again
That I may cease to mourn,
Through thy unkind disdain:
For now left and forlorn,
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
In deadly pain and endless misery.
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
In deadly pain and endless misery.

All the day
The sun that lends me shine,
By frowns do cause me pine,
And feeds me with delay,
Her smiles my springs, that make my joys to grow.
Her frowns the Winters of my woe.
Her smiles my springs, that make my joys to groe
Her frown the winters of my woe.

All the night
My sleeps are full of dreams,
My eyes are full of streams
My heart takes no delight.

  • Come Again (song) 3:29

Glossary:

doth = does

refrain avholde /  halde frå

due som tilkommer (meg) / som tilkjem (meg)

disdain forakt

forlorn forlatt/forlaten

frown morskt blikk

pine lengsel

woe elendighet/elende