Skip to main content
Select Source:

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (b Down Ampney, Glos., 1872; d London, 1958). Eng. composer, conductor, and organist. Studied at Cambridge Univ. 1892–5 and RCM 1890–2, 1895, teachers incl. Parry, Charles Wood, Alan Gray, and Stanford; later in Ger. with Bruch and in Paris 1908 with Ravel. Org., St Barnabas, S. Lambeth, 1897. Began collecting Eng. folk-songs 1902. Mus. ed., English Hymnal, 1906. Cond. Leith Hill (Dorking) Fest., 1905–53. Prof. of comp. RCM 1919–39. Cond., Bach Choir, London, 1920–7. OM 1935.

 One of leaders, with Holst and others, of 20th-cent. revival of Eng. mus. in wake of Elgar. Early works mainly songs, such as the famous Linden Lea and Silent Noon, and chamber mus. Deeply influenced by revival of interest in Eng. 16th-cent. composers and by his own folk-song collecting. Studied for 3 months with Ravel when 36 and thereafter produced series of major works, incl. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for str., On Wenlock Edge, song-cycle on Housman's ‘Shropshire Lad’ poems, and A London Symphony (1913). Served in 1914–18 war although over military age and after war was active in every phase of Eng. mus. life as cond. of amateur choral fests., teacher, writer, and of course composer. Lived at Dorking, Surrey, 1929–53, then returned to London. Gave constant encouragement to young musicians; had strong prejudices, about which he wrote entertainingly in various essays.

 Vaughan Williams's mus. is strongly individual, with the modal harmonies characteristic of folk-song composers, yet owing something to Fr. influence of Ravel and Debussy. He wrote works in almost every genre, from operas and syms. to choral works for amateurs as well as for highly professional choirs, concs. for neglected instrs. such as harmonica and tuba, a suite for pipes, etc. He believed that a composer should ‘make his art an expression of the whole life of the community’, but he was paradoxically a very personal composer rather than a state laureate. His operas have not so far held the stage, except for Riders to the Sea, but all are spasmodically revived, for they contain fine mus. His 9 syms. range from the choral Sea Symphony (Whitman text) and the picturesque London to the programmatic Antartica and the sternly ‘absolute’ Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 9. A wide range of orch. colour is deployed in these works and in his large-scale choral works such as Sancta Civitas. The basis of his work is melody, rhythm sometimes being unsubtle, but its visionary quality, as in the masque Job and the 5th and 9th syms., its broad humanity, and its appeal at several levels make it a remarkable expression of the nat. spirit in mus. just as the man himself personified all that was best in the liberal 19th-cent. tradition of which he was a scion. Prin. works:OPERAS: Hugh the Drover (1910–14, rev. 1924 and 1956); The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (1921–2); Sir John in Love (1924–8); Riders to the Sea (1925–32); The Poisoned Kiss (1927–9, rev. 1934–7, 1956–7); The Pilgrim's Progress (1925–36, 1944–51, 1951–2).BALLETS, etc: Old King Cole, with optional ch. (1923, also suite); On Christmas Night, masque (1925–6); Job, a Masque for Dancing (1927–30); The Bridal Day, masque (1938–9, rev. 1952–3); The First Nowell, nativity play for soloists, ch., orch. (1958).ORCH.: syms.: A Sea Symphony, sop., bar., ch., orch. (1903–9, rev. 1910, 1918, 1924), A London Symphony (1911–13, rev. 1918, 1920, 1933), A Pastoral Symphony (1916–21, rev. 1950–1), No.4 in F minor (1931–4), No.5 in D (1938–43), No.6 in E minor (1944–7), Sinfonia Antartica (1949–52), No.8 in D minor (1953–5), No.9 in E minor (1956–7, rev. 1958); In the Fen Country (1904, rev. 1905, 1907, 1908, 1935); Norfolk Rhapsody (1906, rev. c.1921); Aristophanic Suite, The Wasps (1909, orig. incidental mus.); Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, str. qt., double str. orch. (1910, rev. 1913, 1919); Charterhouse Suite (1923, orch. of 6 pf. pieces); English Folk Songs, suite, military band (1923, arr. full orch. Jacob 1942, brass band Jacob 1956); Sea Songs (1942, version of march for bands 1923); The Running Set (1933); Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’ (arr. from Sir John in Love by Greaves, 1934); 2 Hymn-Tune Preludes (1936); Serenade to Music (1940, orch. version of ch. work); Partita, double str. orch. (1946–8); 5 Variants of Dives and Lazarus, str., hps. (1939); Suite, Story of a Flemish Farm (1945; see Film Music); Concerto grosso, str. (1950); Prelude on an Old Carol Tune (1953); Prelude on 3 Welsh Hymn Tunes, brass band (1954); Variations, brass band (1957; arr. for orch. Jacob 1959); Flourish for Glorious John (1957, ‘Glorious John’ being affectionate name for Barbirolli).CONCERTOS, etc: The Lark Ascending, Romance, vn., orch. (1914, rev. 1920); Flos Campi, suite for va., ch., orch. (1925); vn. conc. in D minor, with str. (1924–5); pf. conc. in C (1926–31, rev. 1946 for 2 pf. with some new material); Suite for va., small orch. (1934); ob. conc. in A minor, with str. (1943–4); Fantasia on Old 104th Psalm Tune, pf., ch., orch. (1949); Romance in D♭, harmonica, str., pf. (1951); tuba conc. in F minor (1954).CHORUS & ORCH.: Toward the Unknown Region (1905–7); A Sea Symphony; 5 Mystical Songs, bar., optional ch., orch. (1911); Fantasia on Christmas Carols, bar., ch., orch. (1912); Lord, Thou hast been our refuge (1921); Sancta Civitas, ten., bar., ch., orch. (1923–5); In Windsor Forest (cantata from Sir John in Love) (1931); Benedicite, sop., ch., orch. (1929); The 100th Psalm (1929); Magnificat, cont., fl., women's ch., orch. (1932); Five Tudor Portraits, choral suite, mez., bar., ch., orch. (1935); Dona nobis pacem, sop., bar., ch., orch. (1936); Festival Te Deum (1937); Serenade to Music (1938); Epithalamion, bar., ch., orch. (1957, based on Bridal Day); Thanksgiving for Victory, sop., spkr., ch., orch. (1944); An Oxford Elegy, spkr., ch., orch. (1949); Folk Songs of the 4 Seasons, women's ch., orch. (1949); The Sons of Light (1950); The Old 100th Psalm Tune (1953); Hodie (This Day), Christmas Cantata, sop., ten., bar., ch., orch. (1953–4).VOCAL: 3 Elizabethan Songs (1890–1902); 5 English Folk Songs (1913); O clap your hands (1920); O vos omnes (1922); Mass in G minor, unacc. double ch. (1920–1); Services in D minor (1939); 6 Choral Songs in time of War (1940); Valiant for Truth (1940); The Souls of the Righteous (1947); Prayer to the Father of Heaven (1948); 3 Shakespeare Songs (1951); O taste and see (1952); Silence and Music (1953); Heart's Music (1954); A Vision of Aeroplanes (1956); and many folk-song arrs.VOICE & ENS.: On Wenlock Edge, ten., str. qt., pf. (1908–9); 4 Hymns, ten., pf., va. (or str. and va.) (1914); Merciless Beauty, v., str. trio or pf. (1921).SONGS (excluding above): Linden Lea (1901); Silent Noon (1903); Orpheus with his lute (1901 and new setting 1925); The House of Life, 6 Rossetti sonnets, v., pf. (1903); Songs of Travel, 9 Stevenson poems for v., pf. (1904, 3 orch. by composer 1905, rest by R. Douglas 1960); Dreamland (1905); Buonaparty (1908); 2 Poems by Seumas O'Sullivan (1925); 3 Songs from Shakespeare (1925); 4 Poems by Fredegond Shove (1925); 3 Poems by Whitman (1925); Along the Field, 8 Housman songs, v., vn. (1926); 7 Songs from ‘The Pilgrim's Progress’ (1952); In the Spring (1952); 10 Blake Songs, v., ob. (1957); 3 Vocalises, sop., cl. (1958); 4 Last Songs, v., pf. (1954–8); and many folk-song arrs.CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1 in G minor (1908, rev. 1921), No.2 in A minor (‘For Jean on her Birthday’) (1942–4); Phantasy Quintet (1912); Suite de Ballet, fl., pf. (1920); 6 Studies in English Folk-Song, vc. (or vn., va., cl.), pf. (1926); Suite for Pipes (1938–9); Household Music, str. qt. or alternatives (1940–1); vn. sonata in A minor (1954).PIANO: Suite of 6 short Pieces (1920, arr. for str. as Charterhouse Suite); Hymn-Tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ by O. Gibbons (1928); 6 Teaching Pieces (1934); Introduction and Fugue (2 pf.) (1946); The lake in the mountains (1947).ORGAN: 3 Preludes on Welsh Hymn-Tunes (1920); Prelude and Fugue in C minor (1930); Wedding Tune for Ann (1943); 2 Organ Preludes (1956).FILM MUSIC: 49th Parallel (1940–1); Coastal Command (1942); The People's Land (1941–2); The Flemish Farm (1943); Stricken Peninsula (1944); The Loves of Joanna Godden (1946); Scott of the Antarctic (1947–8); Dim Little Island (1949); Bitter Springs (1950); The England of Elizabeth (1955); The Vision of William Blake (1957).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vaughan-williams-ralph

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vaughan-williams-ralph

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was a proponent of nationalism in music and was active in reviving the English folk song.

The son of a clergyman, Ralph Vaughan Williams was born at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire on Oct. 12, 1872. He attended the Royal College of Music and then took music degrees at Trinity College, Cambridge University. He studied in Berlin with Max Bruch (1896-1897). On his return to England, Vaughan Williams served as organist and choirmaster in several churches and was a teacher of composition at the Royal College of Music.

In 1904 Vaughan Williams joined the English Folk Song Society, and for several years he was active in collecting and arranging old English melodies. He also became familiar with the music of William Byrd and Henry Purcell, English composers of the 16th and 17th centuries. The modal melodies of the folk songs and the free rhythms and smooth counterpoint of the early composers became important elements of Vaughan Williams's compositions.

The Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis for string quartet and double string orchestra (1908, revised 1913) is one of Vaughan Williams's most important early compositions. With this piece English music shook off 2 centuries of German domination and tapped a rich source of indigenous music. The cool modal harmonies and antiphonal string writing contrast strongly with the lush, feverish music that was being composed in France and Germany at this time. The London Symphony (1914) is another important piece in Vaughan Williams's development. Its sprightly rhythms and street tunes, the impressionist evocation of autumn mist on the Thames in the second movement, the chimes of Big Ben at the end—all this was new in 20th-century English music.

Vaughan Williams continued to write symphonies throughout his life; the last, his Ninth, was written shortly before his death when he was 86. In these works one can follow the composer's steady development. The Fourth (1935) and Sixth (1948) symphonies are perhaps his strongest, and most dissonant, statements.

Vocal music, both solo and choral, also played an important role in Vaughan William's output. Early in his career he edited and contributed to the English Hymnal (1906). His setting of A. E. Housman's poems, On Wenlock Edge, for tenor and string quartet (1909) is frequently performed, as is his Mass in G Minor for double a cappella chorus (1923). His operas include Hugh the Drover (1911-1914), which incorporates folk songs, and Sir John in Love (1929), based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. In the latter work Vaughan Williams used the Elizabethan song "Greensleeves, " which helped to make it one of the most familiar "folk" tunes of the 20th century.

Although he did not follow the newer trends and musical fashions of his day, Vaughan Williams created a thoroughly original style based on English folk music, 16th-and 17th-century polyphony, and informal music of his own times, including jazz. He stated his credo as a composer in his book National Music (1934): "Music is above all things the art of the common man … the art of the humble….What the ordinary man will expect from the composer is not cleverness, or persiflage, or an assumed vulgarity … he will want something that will open to him the 'magic casements.' … The art of music above all other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation … any community of people who are spiritually bound together by language, environment, history and common ideals, and, above all, a continuity with the past." He died in London on Aug. 26, 1958.

Further Reading

The fullest account of Vaughan Williams's life is by his widow, Ursula Vaughan Williams, R. V. W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964). Michael Kennedy, The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964), is a thorough study of the compositions. Hubert Foss, Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Study (1950), and Alan E. F. Dickinson, Vaughan Williams (1963), discuss the composer's life and works.

Additional Sources

Day, James, Vaughan Williams, London: Dent, 1975.

Foss, Hubert J. (Hubert James), Ralph Vaughan Williams; a study, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press 1974.

Mellers, Wilfrid Howard, Vaughan Williams and the vision of Albion, London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1989.

Vaughan Williams, Ursula, R.V.W.: a biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Oxford Oxfordshire; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Vaughan Williams in Dorking: a collection of personal reminiscences of the composer Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, O.M., Dorking: The Group, 1979. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ralph Vaughan Williams." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ralph Vaughan Williams." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ralph-vaughan-williams

"Ralph Vaughan Williams." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ralph-vaughan-williams

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872–1958, English composer, considered the outstanding composer of his generation in England. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1894 and studied composition with Parry and Stanford at the Royal College of Music, London, as well as organ and piano with several teachers. Although he also studied abroad with Max Bruch (1897–98) and Ravel (1909), his style remained individual and English. Receiving a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge in 1901, he was appointed organist at Lambeth and his interest in English folk music dates from his stay there. He used the folk idiom first in the orchestral piece The Fen Country (1904), continuing the same style in the three orchestral Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905–7). Elements of English music of the Tudor period interested him and are apparent in his Fantasia for Double Stringed Orchestra on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and in his Mass in G Minor (1923). His full orchestral works include A London Symphony (1914; revised 1920), A Pastoral Symphony (1921), and the Sixth Symphony (1947). Among his many vocal compositions are the song cycles On Wenlock Edge (1909, texts by A. E. Housman) and Five Mystical Songs (1911, texts by George Herbert). In his opera Sir John in Love (1929; based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor), he incorporated the traditional song "Greensleeves," which he also transformed into various instrumental arrangements. Other operas include Hugh the Drover (1924), Riders to the Sea (1937; from the play by J. M. Synge), and The Pilgrim's Progress (1951; libretto after John Bunyan).

See his National Music (1934) and The Making of Music (1955); biographies by J. Day (1961, rev. ed. 1966), U. V. Williams (1964), and pictorial biography by J. E. Lunn and U. V. Williams (1971); studies by E. S. Schwartz (1964), M. Kennedy (1964, repr. 1971), and H. Ottaway (1972).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872–1958). English composer, conductor, writer, editor, and teacher, who believed passionately in the need for direct communication with his audience. Vaughan Williams studied composition with Charles Wood at Cambridge and with Parry and Stanford at London's Royal College of Music, where he established a lifelong friendship with fellow-composer Gustav Holst. He scored a great success with his first published work, the delightful song ‘Linden Lea’ (1902). He also took lessons with Bruch in Berlin and Ravel in Paris. Vaughan Williams drew heavily on his native heritage: he edited The English Hymnal (1906), and works like the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (1909) reflect his great interest in Elizabethan music. He also collected folk-songs, which influenced his modal harmony and melodic style, contributing to an influential ‘Englishness’. The finest of his nine symphonies are the fiercely dissonant No. 4 (1935), the modal No. 5 (1943), whose luminous spirituality draws on the ‘morality’ (opera) The Pilgrim's Progress, and the war-torn No. 6 (1948) with its desolate hushed ‘Epilogue’. His film music included Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

Eric Cross

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872–1958) English composer. His interest in English folk music is apparent in his three Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905–07) and The Lark Ascending (1914). Vaughan Williams' modal style, based on Tudor music, found its fullest expression in Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and A Sea Symphony (1909). The Tudor song “Greensleeves” appears in his opera Sir John in Love (1929). Works such as The Pilgrim's Progress (1951) and Mass in G Minor (1923) show the influence of the English visionary tradition. Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antarctica (1952) was based on his score for the film Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

http://www.rvwsociety.com

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vaughan-williams-ralph

Williams, Ralph Vaughan

Ralph Vaughan Williams: see Vaughan Williams, Ralph.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/williams-ralph-vaughan

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/williams-ralph-vaughan

Williams, Ralph Vaughan

Williams, Ralph Vaughan. See Vaughan Williams, Ralph.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/williams-ralph-vaughan

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/williams-ralph-vaughan

Williams, Ralph Vaughan

Williams, Ralph Vaughan See Vaughan Williams

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/williams-ralph-vaughan

"Williams, Ralph Vaughan." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/williams-ralph-vaughan