John Dowland, celebrity lute teacher

Two manuscripts apparently connected with John Dowland’s lute-teaching activities survive, but little attempt has been made to situate this aspect of the composer’s professional activity within a broader biographical narrative. This study begins by sifting through the fragmentary evidence concerning the pedagogical activities of Dowland and his closest colleagues, mainly lutenists in royal service pursuing busy portfolio careers. The area around Dowland’s home in Fetter Lane, London, emerges as a thriving centre for professional musical activity in the decades around 1600. With a ready supply of wealthy clients living close by, teaching became an important means of securing additional income for these musicians and, more importantly, provided an opportunity to meet potential patrons.

As lessons with ‘celebrity’ teachers such as Dowland and Philip Rosseter became increasingly desirable as status symbols, the material traces that they left behind (in the forms of signatures and autograph musical materials) also became highly prized. By certifying their presence in this way, they ensured that both parties—the student and the teacher—could benefit from the increased cultural and social capital generated through these lessons. Although recent scholarship has focused upon Dowland’s masterful manipulation of print technology in order to enhance his professional reputation and advance his career, his participation in these important forms of socialized scribal activity is equally significant but has, thus far, remained comparatively underexplored.

Early Music (2013) 41 (2): 205-218. doi: 10.1093/em/cat027

John Dowland, celebrity lute teacher


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