Air: Flow, my tears
John Dowland (1562-1626)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 3 Tracks 24-26
John's Elizabethan hit is a good study in line. Every note of the voice part is essential and creates meaning through direction and distance. It is because most of the directions are downward that the overall attitude is despondent. Upward motions here create fleeting moments of faint optimism. The degree of despondency fluctuates and seems to peak at moments when the distance between consecutive notes is the smallest. Large distances, large leaps are always upward and are followed by a slow, sobbing descent.
Now is a good time to move toward more instrumental music. Contemporary of Mr. Dowland's achievement, music books are being printed and instruments, like the lute, are becoming standardized. And, happily, musical line has acquired this ability to convey meaning more sharply than text.
What I like about this tune is the pitch selection for the words, "Hark! You shadows that in darkness dwell, Learn to contemn light." This is the moment that the piece moves from its main content to the dramatic conclusion. Mr. Dowland created this turn effectively by setting these words to two overlapping palindromes.