Most of Dowland’s music is for his own instrument, the lute. It includes several books of solo lute works, lute songs (for one voice and lute), part-songs with lute accompaniment, and several pieces for viol consort with lute.
During his life Dowland was known as much for his virtuoso lute-playing and his singing as he was for his music. Like many of his musical contemporaries he was much-travelled: he served the English ambassador in Paris (1580-84) and travelled in Europe, visiting the courts of Brunswick, Kassel, Nuremberg and cities in Italy. From 1598 Dowland worked at the court of Christian IV of Denmark, though he continued to publish in London. King Christian paid Dowland astronomical sums: his salary was 500 daler a year, making him one of the highest-paid servants of the Danish court. Though Dowland was highly regarded by King Christian, he was not the ideal servant, often overstaying his leave when he went to England on publishing business or for other reasons. This led to his dismissal in 1606, and he returned to England. In early 1612 he secured a post as one of James I’s lutenists. There are few compositions dating from the moment of his royal appointment until his death in London in 1626: while the date of his burial is recorded, the exact date of his death is not known. Two major influences on Dowland’s music were the popular consort songs and the dance music of the day. Most of Dowland’s music is for his own instrument, the lute. It includes several books of solo lute works, lute songs (for one voice and lute), part-songs with lute accompaniment, and several pieces for viol consort with lute.