Get out your handkerchiefs… Today’s “A to Z” edition of The State of the Arts sheds a tear or two for the letter L… which stands this time for Lute, Lachrimae, and Lament. John Dowland turned a melancholy lute solo into a bit of a franchise, as Lachrimae became “Flow My Tears” and then a set of Pavans, all based on the same melody and weeping gesture. Plus “Dido’s Lament”, the hauntingly beautiful, sorrowful aria sung in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

John Dowland’s Lachrimae theme took many forms – along with the song “Flow My Tears”, it became so popular that musicians would improvise on the theme as jazz players might on a 12-bar blues, or pop standard. Here’s the way the song first sounded, as a lute solo:

And a heart-rending version of “Dido’s Lament”, as sung by Jessye Norman: