The little volume of compositions for the lute, among them a version of John Dowland’s famous 'Lachrymae pavane', that sold for £170,000 at Sotheby’s.

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It featured as part of a volume presenting an exceptional manuscript collection of compositions for that instrument that is thought to date from c.1620.

Composed in 1597, Dowland’s famous pavane, to which lyrics – ‘Flow, my tears’ – were later added, survives in more than 100 manuscript and printed sources across Europe, said Sotheby’s, testifying to its extraordinary popularity over the first half of the 17th century.

An enormous number of Italian and French pieces by a great many composers, mostly dances, feature on the 285 leaves of the manuscript.

It sold for £170,000 as the prize lot in a September 14 sale of musical treasures from the library of the French-born musician and instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940), who came to England and set up a workshop in Haslemere, Surrey.

In a contemporary blind-stamped German pigskin binding, perhaps by the Federnelkenmeister binder of Cologne (c.1583-1619) said Sotheby’s, this exceptional manuscript remains unpublished in its entirety.

Dolmetsch was inextricably linked with the lute, making his first instrument in 1893. Several still survive, including the ones he made for Diana Poulton, the doyenne of lute studies as defined by the cataloguer, and someone who has described the version of Dowland’s composition transmitted by the present manuscript as a highly simplified one.

So popular did the song, or ‘ayre’ version, become in its time that Dowland would occasionally sign his name ‘Jo: dolandi de Lachrimae’.

Dance tunes

Bid to £95,000, the following lot in the Dolmetsch sale was an 18th century manuscript of German, Austrian and French lute music containing some some 250 compositions in all, mostly dance tunes.

Works by some two dozen composers are featured, among them 50 compositions by Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750), of which 19 are known only from this manuscript. Weiss was regarded as both the greatest composer for, and perfomer on the lute of the 18th century, and a man whose music was at times an inspiration for JS Bach.

The manuscript, said Sotheby’s, is also unpublished in its entirety and has never been fully studied.