An analysis of Sweelinck's 'Pavana Lachrimae'

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        Oliver McCallion

How is Sweelinck’s ‘Pavana Lachrimae’  typical of the Renaissance period? You should reference other composers/works in your answer.

‘Pavana Lachrimae’, a virtuoso work for harpsichord based on the popular John Dowland piece ‘Flow my Teares’, exhibits many of the trends composers were exposed to during the Late Renaissance/Early Baroque periods.  Written within the 15th Century, around the time of the gradual introduction of solo keyboard works, Sweelinck pioneered this idea whilst basing it on one of the most popular pieces of secular vocal music. In this respect Sweelinck was very clever in his decisions as he introduces a new way and concept of writing, whilst basing it on something that the public could relate with. Through pioneering solo keyboard works and experimenting with different structures, such as fugues and tripartite structure, he laid the foundations on which one of the greatest Baroque composers would later build; J.S. Bach. It is said that Bach took inspiration from Sweelinck (amongst others) to create works such as 48 Preludes and Fugues.

‘Pavana Lachrimae’ was one of the many instrumental versions of ‘Flow my Teares’ although the only one written for solo harpsichord. The title, when translated, references the structure of the Dowland piece (written as a Pavane) and also the content of the original as Lachrimae translates to ‘tears’ which combines to make the ‘dance of tears’. Conversely, it may also have referenced J.Dowland personally, as he was known to sign his name ‘Jo. Dolandi de Lachrimae’. In a performance context, ‘Pavana Lachrimae’ was probably intended for small private performances, although there is some speculation as to whether Sweelinck wrote it as a study for his students. This would make logical sense, as it is very scalic and would have been a familiar melody to the majority of his students. A less technically challenging piece that seems to focus on a particular area of technique would indicate a study, however, it would also make sense that it was intended for small household performances as harpsichords were common instruments amongst bourgeois households. This reflects the intentions of the stimulus as ‘Flow my Teares’ was intended for private performances, such as pre/post dinner entertainment.  

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Akin to ‘Flow my Teares’, ‘Pavana Lachrimae’ emulates many of the features it exhibits whilst also displaying something inherently different. For example the bell canto melody line of ‘Flow my Teares’ is quite evident in the singing melody line of the right hand harpsichord part. Another striking similarity is the tonality of the two pieces. Both are in A minor and start with a descending sequence from A to E. Also when listening to the two, one can almost follow the melody of ‘Flow my Teares’ on the ‘Pavana Lachrimae’ score although there are an abundance of added passing notes and decorations. This is possibly ...

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