Vaughan Williams, Ralph

views updated Jun 08 2018

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph, great English composer who created a gloriously self-consistent English style of composition, deeply rooted in native folk songs, yet unmistakably participant of modern ways in harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation; b. Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, Oct. 12, 1872; d. London, Aug. 26, 1958. His father, a clergyman, died when Vaughan Williams was a child; the family then moved to the residence of his maternal grandfather at Leith Hill Place, Surrey, where he began to study piano and violin. In 1887 he entered Charterhouse School in London and played violin and viola in the school orch. From 1890 to 1892 he studied harmony with F. E. Gladstone, theory of composition with Parry, and organ with Parratt at the Royal Coll. of Music in London. He then enrolled at Trinity Coll., Cambridge, where he took courses in composition with Charles Wood and in organ with Alan Gray, obtaining his Mus.B. in 1894 and his B.A. in 1895; he subsequently returned to the Royal Coll. of Music, studying with Stanford. In 1897 he went to Berlin for further instruction with Max Bruch; in 1901 he took his Mus.D. at Cambridge. Dissatisfied with his academic studies, he decided in 1908 to seek advice in Paris from Ravel in order to acquire the technique of modern orchestration that emphasized color. In the meantime, Vaughan Williams became active as a collector of English folk songs; in 1904 he joined the Folk Song Soc. In 1905 he became conductor of the Leith Hill Festival in Dorking, a position that he held, off and on, until his old age. In 1906 he composed his 3 Norfolk Rhapsodies,which reveal the ultimate techniques and manners of his national style; he discarded the 2ndand 3rdof the set as not satisfactory in reflecting the subject. In 1903 he began work on a choral sym. inspired by Walt Whitman’s poetry and entitled A Sea Symphony;he completed it in 1909. There followed in 1910 Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis,scored for string quartet and double string orch.; in it Vaughan Williams evoked the song style of an early English composer. After this brief work, he engaged in a grandiose score, entitled A London Symphonyand intended as a musical glorification of the great capital city. However, he emphatically denied that the score was to be a representation of London life. He even suggested that it might be more aptly entitled Symphony by a Londoner,which would explain the immediately recognizable quotations of the street song Sweet Lavenderand of the Westminster chimes in the score; indeed, Vaughan Williams declared that the work must be judged as a piece of absolute or abstract music. Yet prosaically minded commentators insisted that A London Symphonyrealistically depicted in its four movements the scenes of London at twilight, the hubbub of Bloomsbury, a Saturday-evening reverie, and, in conclusion, the serene flow of the Thames River. Concurrently with A London Symphony,he wrote the ballad opera Hugh the Drover,set in England in the year 1812 and reflecting the solitary struggle of the English against Napoleon.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Vaughan Williams enlisted in the British army and served in Salonika and in France as an officer in the artillery. After the Armistice, from 1919 to 1939, he was a prof, of composition at the Royal Coll. of Music in London; from 1920 to 1928 he also conducted the London Bach Choir. In 1921 he completed A Pastoral Symphony,the music of which reflects the contemplative aspect of his inspiration; an interesting innovation in this score is the use of a wordless vocal solo in the last movement. In 1922 he visited the U.S. and conducted A Pastoral Symphonyat the Norfolk (Conn.) Festival; in 1932 he returned to the U.S. to lecture at Bryn Mawr Coll. In 1930 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. of London; in 1935 he received the Order of Merit from King George V. In 1930 he wrote a masque, Job,based on Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job,which was first performed in a concert version in 1930 and was then presented on the stage in London on July 5, 1931.

His 4thSym., in F minor, written between 1931 and 1935 and first performed by the BBC Sym. Orch. in London on April 10, 1935, presents an extraordinary deviation from his accustomed solid style of composition. Here he experimented with dissonant harmonies in conflicting tonalities, bristling with angular rhythms. A peripheral work was Fantasia on Greensleeves,arranged for harp, strings, and optional flutes. This was the composer’s tribute to his fascination with English folk songs; he had used it in his opera Sir John in Love,after Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor,performed in London in 1929. He always professed great admiration for Sibelius; indeed, there was a harmonious kinship between the two great contemporary nationalist composers; there was also the peculiar circumstance that in his 4thSym. Sibelius ventured into the domain of modernism, as did Vaughan Williams in his own 4thSym., and both were taken to task by astounded critics for such musical philandering. Vaughan Williams dedicated his 5thSym., in D major, composed between 1938 and 1943, to Sibelius as a token of his admiration. In the 6thSym., in E minor, written during the years 1944 to 1947, Vaughan Williams returned to the erstwhile serenity of his inspiration, but the sym. has its turbulent moments and an episode of folksy dancing exhilaration.

Vaughan Williams was 80 years old when he completed his challenging Sinfonia antartica,scored for soprano, women’s chorus, and orch.; the music was an expansion of the background score he wrote for a film on the expedition of Sir Robert Scott to the South Pole in 1912. Here the music is almost geographic in its literal representation of the regions that Scott had explored; it may well be compared in its realism with the Alpine Symphonyof Richard Strauss. In Sinfonia antartica Vaughan Williams inserted, in addition to a large orch., several keyboard instruments and a wind machine. To make the reference clear, he used in the epilogue of the work the actual quotations from Scott’s journal. Numerically, Sinfonia antarticawas his 7th; it was first performed in Manchester on Jan. 14, 1953. In the 8thSym. he once more returned to the ideal of absolute music; the work is conceived in the form of a neoclassical suite, but, faithful to the spirit of the times, he included in the score the modern instruments, such as vibraphone and xylophone, as well as the sempiternal gongs and bells. His last sym. bore the fateful number 9, which had for many composers the sense of the ultimate, since it was the numeral of Beethoven’s last sym. In this work Vaughan Williams, at the age of 85, still asserted himself as a composer of the modern age; for the first time, he used a trio of saxophones, with a pointed caveat that they should not behave “like demented cats,” but rather remain their romantic selves. Anticipating the inevitable, he added after the last bar of the score the Italian word “niente.” The 9thSym. was first performed in London on April 2, 1958; Vaughan Williams died later in the same year. It should be mentioned as a testimony to his extraordinary vitality that after the death of his first wife, he married the poet and writer Ursula Wood on Feb. 7, 1953 (at the age of 80), and in the following year he once more paid a visit to the U.S. on a lecture tour to several American univs.

Summarizing the aesthetic and technical aspects of the style of composition of Vaughan Williams, there is a distinctly modern treatment of harmonic writing, with massive agglomeration of chordal sonorities; parallel triadic progressions are especially favored. There seems to be no intention of adopting any particular method of composition; rather, there is a great variety of procedures integrated into a distinctively personal and thoroughly English style, nationalistic but not isolationist. Vaughan Williams was particularly adept at exploring the modern ways of modal counterpoint, with tonality freely shifting between major and minor triadic entities, a procedure that astutely evokes sweetly archaic usages in modern applications; thus Vaughan Williams combines the modalities of the Tudor era with the sparkling polytonalities of the modern age.


dramatic: Opera: Hugh the Drover,ballad opera (1911-14; London, July 14, 1924); The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains,“pastoral episode” after Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress (1921-22; London, July 11, 1922); Sir John in Love,after Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (1925-29; London, March 21, 1929); Riders to the Sea,after the drama by John Millington Synge (1925-32; London, Dec. 1, 1937); The Poisoned Kiss,“romantic extravaganza” (1927-29; Cambridge, May 12,1936; rev. 1934-37 and 1956-57); The Pilgrim’s Progress,“morality” (includes material from the earlier opera The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains;1925-36, 1944-51; London, April 26, 1951). B a 1 1 e t : Old King Cole (Cambridge, June 5, 1923); On Christmas Night,masque (1925-26; Chicago, Dec. 26, 1926); Job, a Masque for Dancing (1927-30; concert perf., Norwich, Oct. 23, 1930; stage perf., London, July 5, 1931). Incidental Music To: Ben Jonson’s Pan’s Anniversary (Stratford-upon-Avon, April 24, 1905); Aristophanes’s The Wasps (Cambridge, Nov. 26, 1909). F i 1 m : 49thParallel (1940-1); The People’s Land (1941-42); Coastal Command (1942);

The Story of a Flemish Farm (1943; suite for Orch., London, July 31, 1945); Stricken Peninsula (1944); The Loves of Joanna Godden (1946); Scott of the Antarctic (1947-48; material taken from it incorporated in the Sinfonia antartica); Dim Little Island (1949); Bitter Springs (1950); The England of Elizabeth (1955); The Vision of William Blake (1957). Other:

The Mayor of Casterbridge,music for a radio serial after Thomas Hardy (1950). ORCH.:

Serenadefor Small Orch. (1898); Bucolic Suite (Bournemouth, March 10, 1902); 2 Impressions: Harnham Downand Boldrewood (1902; London, Nov. 12, 1907); 9 syms.: No. 1, A Sea Symphony,for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch., after Walt Whitman (1906-09; Leeds Festival, Oct. 12, 1910, composer conducting), No. 2, A London Symphony (1911-14; London, March 27, 1914; rev. version, London, May 4, 1920), No. 3, A Pastoral Symphony (1916-21; London, Jan. 26, 1922), No. 4, in F minor (1931-35; London, April 10, 1935, Boult conducting), No. 5, in D major (1938-43; London, June 24, 1943, composer conducting), No. 6, in E minor (1944-47;London, April 21,1948, Boult conducting), No. 7, Sinfonia antartica (1949-52; Manchester, Jan. 14, 1953, Barbirolli conducting), No. 8, in D minor (1953-55; Manchester, May 2, 1956, Barbirolli conducting), and No. 9, in E minor (1956-58; London, April 2, 1958, Sargent conducting); 3 Norfolk Rhapsodies (1906; No. 1, in E minor, London, Aug. 23,1906, No. 2, Cardiff Festival, Sept. 27, 1907, and No. 3, not perf.; Nos. 2 and 3 withdrawn by the composer); In the Fen Country,symphonic impression (1904 and subsequent revs.; London, Feb. 22, 1909, Beecham conducting); The Wasps,Aristophanic suite (1909; London, July 23,1912, composer conducting); Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallisfor String Quartet and Double String Orch. (Gloucester Festival, Sept. 6, 1910, composer conducting; rev. 1923); The Lark Ascending,romance for Violin and Orch. (1914-20; London, June 14, 1921); Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings, Concerto accademico (1924-25; London, Nov. 6, 1925); Piano Concerto in C major (1926-31; London, Feb. 1, 1933; also rev. for 2 Pianos and Orch., 1946); Fantasia on Sussex Folk-Tunesfor Cello and Orch. (London, March 13,1930, Casals, soloist, Barbirolli conducting); Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Hereford, Sept. 12, 1930); Suite for Viola and Small Orch. (London, Nov. 12, 1934); Fantasia on Greensleeves (arr. from the opera Sir John in Loveby Greaves, 1934); 5 Variants of “Dives and Lazarus”for String Orch. and Harp, commissioned by the British Council for the N.Y. World’s Fair (N.Y., June 10, 1939); Serenade to Music (orch. version of 1938 original, 1940; London, Feb. 10, 1940); Concerto in A minor for Oboe and Strings (1943-44; Liverpool, Sept. 30, 1944); Partitafor Double String Orch. (orch. version of Double Trio for String Sextet, 1946-48; BBC, London, March 20, 1948); Concerto Grosso for Strings (London, Nov. 18, 1950, Boult conducting); Romancein D-flat major for Harmonica, Strings, and Piano (1951; N.Y., May 3, 1952); Concerto in F minor for Tuba and Orch. (London, June 14, 1954); Flourish for Glorious John [for] (Manchester, Oct. 16, 1957, Barbirolli conducting). CHAMBER: 1 unnumbered string quartet, in C minor (1898; June 30, 1904); 2 numbered string quartets: No. 1, in G minor (London, Nov. 8, 1909) and No. 2, in A minor (1942--4; London, Oct. 12, 1944); Quintet in D major for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Cello, and Piano (June 5, 1900); Piano Quintet in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Double Bass (London, Dec. 14, 1905); Phantasy Quintetfor 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and Cello (1912; London, March 23,1914); 6 studies in English folk song for Cello and Piano (London, June 4, 1926); Double Trio for String Sextet (London, Jan. 21, 1939); Violin Sonata in A minor (BBC, London, Oct. 12, 1954); also some short piano pieces; Introduction and Fugue for 2 Pianos

(1946); organ pieces. VOCAL: Willow Woodfor Baritone, Women’s Chorus, and Orch., after Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1903; Liverpool Festival, Sept. 25, 1909); Songs of Travelfor Voice and Piano, after Robert Louis Stevenson (London, Dec. 2, 1904); Toward the Unknown Regionfor Chorus and Orch., after Walt Whitman (1905-07; Leeds Festival, Oct. 10, 1907; rev. 1918); On Wenlock Edge,song cycle for Tenor, Piano, and String Quartet ad libitum, after A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad (London, Nov. 15, 1909); 5 Mystical Songsfor Baritone, Optional Chorus, and Orch. (Worcester Cathedral, Sept. 14, 1911); Fantasia on Christmas Carolsfor Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (Hereford Festival, Sept. 12, 1912); 4 Hymnsfor Tenor and Piano, with Viola obbligato (1914; Cardiff, May 26, 1920); Massin G minor (1920-21; Birmingham, Dec. 6, 1922); Sancta civitasfor Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1923-25; Oxford, May 7, 1926); Flos Campi,suite for Viola, Wordless Mixed Chorus, and Small Orch. (London, Oct. 19, 1925); Te Deumfor Chorus and Organ (Canterbury Cathedral, Dec. 4, 1928); Benedicitefor Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (1929; Dorking, May 2,1930); The Hundredth Psalmfor Chorus and Orch. (1929; Dorking, April 29, 1930); 3 Choral Hymnsfor Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (Dorking, April 30, 1930); In Windsor Forest,cantata for Chorus and Orch., adapted from the opera Sir John in Love (Windsor, Nov. 9,1931); Magnificatfor Contralto, Women’s Chorus, and Orch. (Worcester Cathedral, Sept. 8, 1932); 5 Tudor Portraitsfor Mezzo-soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1935; Norwich Festival, Sept. 25,1936); Dona nobis pacemfor Soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (Huddersfield, Oct. 2, 1936); Festival Te Deum (1937); Flourish for a Coronation (London, April 1, 1937); Serenade to Musicfor 16 Solo Voices and Orch. (London, Oct. 5, 1938); The Bridal Day,masque after Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion (1938-39; rev. 1952-53; BBC television, London, June 5,1953, in celebration of the coronation of Elizabeth II; rev. as the cantata Epithalamion,London, Sept. 30, 1957);Thanksgiving for Victoryfor Soprano, Speaker, Chorus, and Orch. (1944; BBC broadcast, London, May 13, 1945); An Oxford Elegyfor Speaker, Chorus, and Orch., after Matthew Arnold (Dorking, Nov. 20,1949); Folk Songs of the 4 Seasons,cantata on traditional folk songs, for Women’s Voices and Orch. (1949; London, June 15, 1950); The Sons of Lightfor Children’s Chorus (London, May 6,1951); Hodie (This Day),Christmas cantata for Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1953-54; Worcester, Sept. 8, 1954); A Vision of Aeroplanes,motet for Chorus and Organ, after Ezekiel, Chapter 1 (1955; St. Michael’s, Cornhill, London, June 4, 1956); 10 Blake Songsfor Tenor and Oboe (BBC, London, Oct. 8,1958); other songs to words by English poets; arrangements of English folk songs; hymn tunes; carols.


The English Hymnal (1906; 2nded., 1933); Songs of Praise (with M. Shaw; 1925; 2nded., 1931); The Oxford Book of Carols (with P. Dearmer and M. Shaw; 1928); lectures and articles, reprinted in National Music and Other Essays (London, 1963); R. Palmer ed. Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1983).


A. Dickinson, An Introduction to the Music of R. V W.(London, 1928); H. Foss, R. V W.(London, 1950); E. Payne, The Folksong Element in the Music of V W.(diss., Univ. of Liverpool, 1953); P. Young, V. W.(London, 1953); F. Howes, The Music ofR. V. W.(London, 1954); J. Bergsagel, The National Aspects of the Music ofR. V W.(diss., Cornell Univ., 1957); S. Pakenham, R. V W.: A Discovery of His Music (London, 1957); J. Day, V. W.(London, 1961; 2nded., rev, 1975); A. Dickinson, V W.(London, 1963); M. Kennedy, The Works of R. V. W.(London, 1964; rev. 1980; 2nded., rev, 1996, as A Catalogue of the Works of R.V W.);E. Schwartz, The Symphonies of R. V. W.(Amherst, 1964); U. Vaughan Williams, R. V. W.: A Biography (London, 1964); H. Ottaway, V. W.(London, 1966); P. Starbuck, R. V. W., O.M., 1872-1958: A Bibliography of His Literary Writings and Criticism of His Musical Works (diss., Library Assn., 1967); M. Hurd, V. W.(London, 1970); J. Lunn and U. Vaughan Williams, R. V. W.: A Pictorial Biography (London, 1971); R. Douglas, Working with R. V. W.(London, 1972); H. Ottaway, V. W. Symphonies (London, 1972; rev. ed., 1988); U. Vaughan Williams, R. V. W.: A Biography ofR. V. W.(Oxford, 1988); N. Butterworth, R. V. W.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1989); W Mellers, V. W. and the Vision of Albion (1989); J. Northrop Moore, V. W.: A Life in Photographs (Oxford, 1992); A. Frogley, ed., V. S. Studies (N.Y., 1996); P. Holmes, V. W.: His Life and Times (London, 1997); J. Day, V. W.(Oxford, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

views updated May 18 2018

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).

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

views updated May 18 2018


Eminent 20th-century composer; b. Down Ampney (Gloucester), England, Oct. 12, 1872; d. London, Aug. 26, 1958. Of distinguished Welsh ancestry on his father's side and a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood and grandnephew of Charles darwin on his mother's, he grew up in the Wedgwood country seat in Surrey and studied with C. H. Parry and C. V. Stanford at the new Royal College of Music; with Charles Wood at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.Mus. 1894; Mus.D. 1901); and, for brief intervals, with Bruch in Berlin and Ravel in Paris. His creative vision found matter and form in the heritage of ancient English folk song, hymnody, and polyphony, in whose rediscovery he had energetically participated. His subsequent music broke ground for a new national expression, and together with his lectures and writings constitutes a declaration of English (and American) independence from a decadent European romanticism. In brief, he held that a musical style must be national before it can become international or "classic"; that the greatest music is only "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, rooted in an age-old tradition" (The Making of Music, 61). This comment reflects the nostalgic and paramystical temper of mind that pervades the whole varied range of his works from unison carol to ballet and film music (and a canon of nine symphonies, the last completed in his 85th year). Its ultimate utterance is found, however, in biblically oriented creations such as the cantatas Sancta Civitas and Magnificat; the Te Deums; the instrumental suite Flos Campi; the Anglican service music; and the Catholic Mass in G minor composed for Sir Richard Terry for use at Westminster Cathedral (1922). For this Mass he not only revived and extended the church modes but also invented a modal harmony to accompany theman achievement at once refreshing and austerely contemplative in effect. As Terry wrote the composer, "In your individual and modern idiom, you have really captured the old liturgical spirit and atmosphere." The text has been translated for Anglican worship, and the Credo and Sanctus were sung during Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. In his three visits to the U.S., he appealed to American composers, as had dvoŘÁk before him, to look about them, as well as to Continental sources, for inspiration.

Bibliography: r. vaughan williams, National Music (New York 1934; repr. 1935), Bryn Mawr College lectures, 1932; Some Thoughts on Beethoven's Choral Symphony (New York 1953); The Making of Music (Ithaca, N.Y. 1955), Cornell U. lectures, 1954. r. vaughan williams and g. holst, Heirs and Rebels, ed. u. vaughan williams and i. holst (New York 1959). h. j. foss, Ralph Vaughan Williams (New York 1950). f. s. howes, The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (New York 1954). p. m. young, Vaughan Williams (London 1953). j. day, Vaughan Williams (Master Musicians Series; New York 1961). a. e. f. dickinson, Vaughan Williams (London 1963). m. kennedy, The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (New York 1964). u. vaughan williams, Ralph Vaughan Williams (New York 1964). p. m. young, The Choral Tradition (New York 1962). p. h. young and m. kennedy, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949). j. day, "Hugh the Drover, or, Love in the Stocks " in International Dictionary of Opera, 2 v., ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993). j. allen feldman, "Riders To the Sea " ibid. l. foreman, ed., Ralph Vaughan Williams in Perspective: Studies of an English Composer (Colchester 1998). a. frogley, ed., Vaughan Williams Studies (Cambridge 1996). m. jameson, Ralph Vaughan Williams: An Essential Guide to his Life and Works (London 1997). c. livingston, "The Christmas Fantasias of Vaughan Williams and Holst," Journal of the British Music Society 13 (1991) 5966. a. mcfarland, "A Deconstruction of William Blake's Vision:Vaughan Williams and Job, " International Journal of Musicology 3 (1994) 33971. w. mellers, Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion (London 1989). l. g. musselwhite, "Falstaff: Nationalism's Tie to Character Formation in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff, and Sir John In Love. " The Opera Journal 26/2 (1993) 2729, 3233.

[m. e. evans]

Ralph Vaughan Williams

views updated May 29 2018

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. □

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

views updated Jun 11 2018

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

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

views updated Jun 11 2018

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).

Williams, Ralph Vaughan

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Williams, Ralph Vaughan. See Vaughan Williams, Ralph.

Williams, Ralph Vaughan

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Williams, Ralph Vaughan See Vaughan Williams