The English composer Dowland was considered to be one of the finest lutenists during his time. As a composer, many have likened his oeuvre to the geniuses Purcell and Britten. His works for solo voice and lute alone is to be aptly celebrated, having enabled the expansion and development of the avre (accompanied song) in the late 16th and 17th centuries. A relative of the French air du cour, the English avre is typified with more elaborate arrangements that included contrapuntal textures wherein the vocal line often takes dominance.
These two pieces may be found in Dowland’s Second Booke. Compared to his earlier works, themes explored in this particular collection veered away from the usual simple and stylized emotions of the times. Grief, despair, and melancholy find their way in the poetic framework of these pieces as artisans began exploring the darker facets of human emotion.
Scholars assert that I Saw My Lady Weep and Flow My Tears are to be performed in succession with each other. Musical tradition requires that I Saw ends in the tonic, but instead Dowland writes it on a fifth. Many agree that Flow My Tears is the logical resolution. The pieces are not necessarily a pairing, but instead complimentary to each other.
Lute songs or airs include a variety of musical types, though most are basically accompanied melodies. Airs can be disguised homophonic part songs, instrumental dance tunes, canzonets, ballets, or even madrigals; they can be consort songs with the viol parts arranged for the lute. Airs were published in a way that would allow several other options for performance as well. The model for most of the collections of airs was the first and one of the most important, John Dowland’s First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597)
I Saw My Lady Weep was also arranged for two voices, cantus and bass while Flow my tears was originally composed as an instrumental under the name Lachrimae pavane in 1596, it is Dowland's most famous ayre, and became his signature song, literally as well as metaphorically: he would occasionally sign his name "Jo. Dolandi de Lachrimae".