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Posted by Martin Walker on March 20, 2012, 11:00 am
It seems rather odd for Robert Hugill to write "Then comes another lute solo, another Dowland song, this time Fortune My Foe." Neither the words of this putative song nor the tune are by Dowland - the air was published as a set of variations in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, attributed to Byrd, but it is clearly older. There is no vocal setting to my knowledge; one is at liberty to doubt that the existent anonymous lyric commencing "Fortune my foe, why dost thou frown on me" was originally associated with the air. From A History of Irish Music by William H. Grattan Flood we learn that "Fortune my Foe is an exquisite sixteenth-century Irish melody, alluded to by Shakespeare, the music of which is to be found in William Ballet's Lute Book, in 1593; also, in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and in William Forster's Virginal Book, dated January 31st, 1624, now the property of King Edward VII. As far back as 1565-6 it was licensed as a ballad, and is mentioned in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act II., Scene 3). Chappell says that Fortune my Foe was known as the Hanging Tune, "from the metrical lamentations of extraordinary criminals being always chanted to it."" (The book I am quoting from is in the public domain and freely available online.)
Obviously I would not bother about this were it not that the melody in question is ineffably beautiful - and has haunted me for decades. The most unforgettable recording of it I have heardwas on the Turnabout LP of Dowland Songs & Dances played by Christiane Jacottet, Joel Cohen etc - a record with the late lamented Hugues Cuénod that urgently needs to be remastered and reissued.
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