John Dowland and, 400 years later, John Cage both composed refined, playful and delicate music. This programme presents works from John Dowland's "Second Booke of Songs" and John Cage's "Song Books" in versions for voice, lute and electronics. The silence here has the same value as the sound and underlines the elegance of the selected texts.
The "Second Booke of Songs or Ayres" by the English lutenist John Dowland (1563-1626) was published in 1600. At the time, the 37-year-old composer had mastered his art to perfection, and the first pieces in this collection ("I saw my lady weepe" or "Flow my tears") are still among the most frequently performed works of the English Renaissance. The programme focuses on the first eight "songs" of this collection, the special feature of which is that they are clearly composed for two voices (most of Dowland's "songs" are either only for one voice and lute or for four voices and lute). As a true "dialogue in threes" (two singers and lute), these compositions, with their moving lyrics of gentle melancholy, are an immersion in intimacy and expression of feeling. 2
John Cage (1912-1992) published the collection "Song Books" in 1970. It is a compilation of 90 "songs" in which Cage presents the diversity of his compositional abilities.
There are some new ideas, but many of the solos recycle techniques from his earlier music. The Song Books even include a new version of the piece 4'33". Solo 8 is subtitled 0'00" and instructs the performer, "In a situation with maximum amplification (no feedback), perform a disciplined action." If 4'33" is about hearing nothing, 0'00" is about hearing something. The key word here is "disciplined". One of Cage's recurring problems, as he says in his book A Year from Monday, was "to find a way to let people be free without their becoming foolish". The Song Books are quite susceptible to misinterpretation. Some of the solos are as easy to execute as they must have been when written - "What can you do?" asks Solo 78; "I can take off my shoes and put them on again" - but many others require extraordinary vocal gymnastics.
The apparent simplicity of the vocal lines and the aesthetic, far removed from baroque or bel canto virtuosity, is here a way of revealing the complexity and sophistication of the works of John Dowland and John Cage.