BiographyJohn Dowland (1563 - 1626) might properly be considered the first singer/songwriter to the stars, as the 16th century English composer, singer, and lutenist was idolized in the courts of Europe for melancholy songs like "Come, heavy sleep" (the basis for Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal), "Flow my tears," and "I saw my Lady weepe." He even got a gig at the funeral of James I. Today, you're less likely to encounter him through a toe-tapping vocal number like "In darknesse let mee dwell" than you are through his instrumental music, which has undergone a major revival as concert repertoire for classical guitarists.
His most highly regarded 84 ayres for voice and lute, published mainly between 1597 and 1612, elevated the level of English song to high art, matching the gloomy sentiments of the verse, which were so en vogue during his day, with biting discord. His 70-odd pieces for solo lute are widely performed today, and include intricate fantasias, dances and sets of variations.