John Dowland, Tomas Marco: Rota Fortunae, Musical Portraits in Tarot


  • Artist(s): Francesco Molmenti
  • Composer(s): John Dowland, Tomas Marco
  • EAN Code: 0746160911373
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Guitar
  • Period: Baroque, Contemporary
  • Publication year: 2020
SKU: C00305 Category:

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The programme proposed here relates some characters of the Elizabethan era, as musically portrayed by the English lutenist John Dowland (1563-1626), with as many tarot cards, musically translated by composer Tomás Marco (b. 1942), from Madrid. On the one hand we have pieces referring to historical persons, about whom (at least in some cases) solid biographical sources exist; on the other, the faceless figures evoked by tarots, who (thanks to their symbolic value and their divinatory function) speak to us with a hermetic, arcane language, occasionally becoming enchanting and fairy-tale-like. The choice to link figures from the sixteenth-seventeenth century with tarot cards is entirely arbitrary. The juxtaposition derives from the underpinning of some biographical episodes, from the correspondence with the character of some pieces, and, sometimes, from purposeful misunderstandings.
Peregrine Bertie (1555-1601) was the son of a man with an obscure past and of Katerina, the young widow of the Duke of Suffolk. He soon became an important envoy of the English Crown, with diplomatic missions in Denmark and the Netherlands. His fortune, however, was decided on the battlefield: in 1586, he was entrusted with leadership of the English army which supported the resistance of the Dutch Republic against the Spaniards. News about his military success travelled like wildfire in England, also thanks to the ballad “The fifteenth day of July” (performed here in the version for lute, entitled “My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home”); this success brought him honour, glory and a title (as the thirteenth Baron of Willoughby de Eresby). His figure is likened to the card of the Sun (Le Soleil), a synonym of serenity and fulfillment, but also of the capability to successfully exploit an occasion granted by Fortune.
Lady Elizabeth Russell (1528-1609) was one of the five daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall, Essex. A cultivated and elegant lady, she got married with Sir Thomas Hoby, a famous scholar, who is known as the English translator of Baldassarre Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano. She is remembered as an inflexible Puritan, both for her social and political battles and for the subjects of her publications (in particular, for the translation of a moralizing treatise discussing A way of reconciliation touching the true nature and substance of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament). In 1596 she was the first signatory of a petition aiming at blocking the foundation of a theatre at Blackfriars, since, in the signatories’ opinion, it was improper for a new theatre to be founded within the walls of a building which used to be an old convent. Their initiative was unsuccessful and, in 1608, the Blackfriars Theatre became the winter theatre where William Shakespeare and his company performed. Lady Russell is conveniently portrayed by the card of the Empress (L’Impératrice), which is normally ascribed to willpower and universal fecundity, but also, in the negative, to a certain moral rigidity, to vanity and to a sterile pride.
The identity of the character hidden behind the title of Mr. Knight is obscure. Since its origins, this Anglo-Saxon family name was connected both with land-owning aristocracy and with humble soldiers. Since he is indicated as “Mr.” rather than “Sir”, however, we may infer that he was a personage of an intermediate rank. The galliard style employed by the composer alludes to a military context. The juxtaposition with the figure of Strength (La Force) derives from a negative interpretation of this card, particularly connected with concepts such as impulsiveness and the use of violence.
The ascent of captain Digorie Piper was dazzling. He came from a family of Cornish landowners; he became an excellent mariner and, in 1585, Queen Elizabeth’s High Court of Admiralty appointed him the Captain of the Sweepstake, a vessel whose main task was to defend the English coasts against the galleons of the King of Spain. Digorie, however, was blinded by cupidity and began to attack and spoil French, German, Flemish and Danish ships which happened to cross the Channel. In 1586 he encountered the power of law: he was accused of piracy and rendered a full confession to the Court of justice. Mysteriously, he managed to escape the gallows. It is suspected that the Crown had secretly given him the task of foundering the foreign ships in order to favour British commerce. It is also likely that he was rehabilitated and called back to duty in the year of the great attack of the Armada Invencible against Britain (1588). In consideration of the crucial role played by Justice in the Captain’s life, it was inevitable for his figure to be juxtaposed to the tarot card La Justice.
Given the common family name and the absence of a first name, it is impossible to identify the person mentioned in the piece Mrs. White’s Nothing. The musical interpretation proposed here purposefully twists the character of Jig suggested by the ternary rhythm, and adopts a slow pace, focusing on the contrapuntal texture hidden within the chordal structure. The meditative and suspended resulting climate, almost reminiscent of a Siciliano, corresponds to the tarot of Death (La Mort). It alludes, among other things, to the frailty of human existence, but also to the subject of the human beings’ unpreparedness to the encounter with the Grim Reaper. The admonishment is clear and can also assume a positive value: righteous people should suspend the business of material life in order to dedicate themselves to otium and to spiritual life.
Due to its universality and to its iconographic impact and variety, the Wheel of Fortune (La Roue de la Fortune) is one of the most celebrated Arcana of the Western culture. A metaphor of destiny, of the mutability of fate, and a symbol for the factor beyond our control which punctuate life, the Wheel is also the mirror of Time’s flowing, a parable of doom and an allegory of life itself. With unceasing and kaleidoscopic arpeggiations, La Roue by Tomas Marco evokes the theme of movement, as well as those of cyclicity and of the relentlessness of Time.
The contemplation of the world and the achievement of Wisdom are typical for the Hermit (Le Hermite), as well as for Robert Sydney. Dowland’s piece is dedicated to Lord Viscount Lisle, the title he received in his forties; it describes, with a thick and multifaceted texture, a complex figure, in which different aspects coexist. He was a high-ranking diplomat, who excelled at first as a man at arms before becoming a courtier; at the same time, he was a generous patron of the arts, first of all of poetry and music. It is precisely in his capability to isolate himself from public life in order to pursue the otium of art that we find a likeness with the Hermit, the tarot card which is closest to the philosophical quest for the Truth.
We know little about Lady Hunsdon: just that she was in turn a patroness of the arts and that she had an important “puffe” (the etymology and the exact translation are uncertain: “sigh”, “puff”, but also, by extension, “powder puff”, “puff sleeve”, and even “puff pastry”). The frivolous character of the piece by her name has been juxtaposed to the card of the Lovers (L’amoureux), whose positive meanings include joie de vivre, pleasurable temptations and eroticism.
Alienation, detachment from reality and the enclosure within the bounds of one’s interior world are the typical features of the card of the Fool (Le Fou). These, however, are hidden in Marco’s version, which favours topics such as vitality and the unpredictability of change or of a “new beginning”, understood as a moment of frightening and primeval purity. For this reason, its contact is with the extroverted and vital piece dedicated to Sir John Smith, whose identification is rather complex; among the various possibilities, there could in fact be a reference to the literary and theatrical figure of the Fool.
The card of the Magician (Le Bateleur) received various descriptions in the history of tarots, being identified with a charlatan, a street prestidigitator, but also a wizard, a craftsman, an alchemist or a surgeon. Referring to the latter positive interpretations and symbols of this card, which allude to intelligence, skill and initiative, this Arcanum was associated to the multifaceted and industrious figure of Dr John Case (d.1600). We know from his rich biography that he was a kindly man and an appreciated scholar, who studied philosophy and led a religious life, and was interested in medicine and music. He published several writings on the works of Aristotle, as well as treatises such as the Apologia Musices (1588) where, besides citing John Dowland among the most appreciated musicians of the time, he took a stance against the inflexible positions of the Puritans, defending contrapuntal and instrumental music in worship. He was an amiable speaker and an appreciated teacher of logics, philosophy and dialectics. He was wealthy thanks to his skill, but he is also remembered as a generous philanthropist.
The Moon (La Lune), which alludes to mystery, to the unconscious, but also to the journey and the quest for a hidden and mysterious side of reality, is associated to Mr Dowland’s Midnight, a melancholic soliloquy dedicated to night, with which our itinerary ends.
Liner notes by Francesco Molmenti


Francesco Molmenti: Guitarist and a musicologist. He was introduced in the six-strings world by his first teacher, Lucia Pizzutel, who supported him until his graduation - accomplished cum laude at Conservatorio “G. Tartini” in Trieste with the teacher Frédéric Zigante. He enhances his education attending electronic music and conducting courses and, in particular, delving into musical history and theory. He graduated cum laude in the musicology course of study at the University of Cremona, where he earned his PhD with his thesis dedicated to the theorist of the Renaissance Johannes Tinctoris.

From 1994 to 2001 he distinguished himself in different national and international competitions, always winning the first prize: “Rovere d’Oro” (S. Bartolomeo al Mare), “Premio G. Crespi” (Azzano Decimo), “Città di Ortona”, “Riviera della Versilia” (Lido di Camaiore); A.GI.MUS. (Varenna), “Città di S. Mauro” (Torino), “Salmaso” (Viareggio), “Levrone Bottero” (Mondovì), “O. Caiazzo” (Napoli). “Selezione giovani concertisti” (Parma) ", “Ansaldi-Servetti” (Mondovì) e “I. Padovez” (Croazia). In September 2003 he won the second prize (first prize not awarded) at prestigious International Competition of Gargnano and the first prize at Abbiategrasso Guitar Competition (Milano). He also won the second prize at Asian International Guitar Festival and Competition.

In the summer of 2002, in a word premier, he played as soloist in the orchestral version of the concert “En las tierras altas” by Angelo Gilardino with the Orchestra Sinfonicque Institut Musical de la Vallée. In the same year, he won the guitar competition “Ansaldi Servetti” in Mondovì and consequently made a CD in recognition of his prize-winning performance.
These results led him to perform, as a soloist, soloist with orchestra, and in various chamber ensembles, in several Italian and foreign Countries, including: Croatia (Buzet, Delnice, Labin, Opatija, Pula, Varazdin, Verteneglio), France (Gironde, La Réole, Nizza, Périgueux), Japan (Tokyio, Fuji, Kyoto), Italy (Aviano, Bassano, Brugnera, Burano, Pordenone, Parma, Caldarola, Campagnola Emilia, Casolta, Castel San Giovanni, Cavezzo, Cervia, Clusone, Crema, Cremona, Courmayeur, Erto e Casso, Fermo, Foligno, Fossalta di Piave, Fusignano, Gradisca d’Isonzo, Grafignana, Gorizia, Gromo, Lignano, Lodi, Milano, Modena, Mondovì, Monte Rubbiano, Oristano, Parma, Perugia, Piacenza, Pisa, Pordenone, Portobuffolé, Sacile, Salsomaggiore, San Marino, Treviso, Trieste, Venezia), Slovenia (Capo d’Istria), Spain (Almeria), Tailandia (Bangkok), Taiwan (Taipei), Usa (Los Angeles, Oklahoma City), UK (London).

He currently performs as a soloist, with the In tempore Belli guitar trio and with Luigi Accardo in the Extravagantia – guitar & harpsichord duo, with whom he recorded a CD dedicated to the J.S. Bach’s six Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530 (Dynamics 2019). He’s the Ensemble ‘Un pizzico di corda’ leader.


John Dowland (b ?London, 1563; bur. London, 20 Feb 1626). English composer and lutenist. He was one of the finest players of his time, and while his music was soon superseded in England, it had a profound influence on the Continent, where he spent much of his career. He is now recognized as the greatest English composer of lute music and lute songs.

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