Sakura Salon 11/2/14 – Ralph Vaughn Williams short orchestral pieces

Held in Mondrago due to the Sakura rebuild.  Very light turnout due to multiple competing events in the Steamlands, I may repeat these pieces because I think they would be fairly popular due to their beauty and style.

 

 

Ralph Vaughn Williams

A Short Biography

Ralph Vaughan Williams is arguably the greatest composer Britain has seen since the days of Henry Purcell. In a long and extensive career, he composed music notable for its power, nobility and expressiveness, representing, perhaps, the essence of ‘Englishness’.

Vaughan Williams was born on the 12th October, 1872 in the Cotswold village of Down Ampney. He was educated at Charterhouse School, then Trinity College, Cambridge. Later he was a pupil of Stanford and Parry at the Royal College of Music, after which he studied with Max Bruch in Berlin and Maurice Ravel in Paris.

At the turn of the century he was among the very first to travel into the countryside to collect folk-songs and carols from singers, notating them for future generations to enjoy. As musical editor of The English Hymnal he composed several hymns that are now world-wide favorites (For all the Saints, Come down O love Divine). Later he also helped to edit The Oxford Book of Carols, with similar success. Before the war he had met and then sustained a long and deep friendship with the composer Gustav Holst. Vaughan Williams volunteered to serve in the Field Ambulance Service in Flanders for the 1914-1918 war, during which he was deeply affected by the carnage and the loss of close friends such as the composer George Butterworth.

For many years Vaughan Williams conducted and led the Leith Hill Music Festival, conducting Bach’s St Matthew Passion on a regular basis. He also became professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in London. In his lifetime, Vaughan Williams eschewed all honours with the exception of the Order of Merit which was conferred upon him in 1938.

He died on the 26th August 1958; his ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, near Purcell. In a long and productive life, music flowed from his creative pen in profusion. Hardly a musical genre was untouched or failed to be enriched by his work, which included nine symphonies, five operas, film music, ballet and stage music, several song cycles, church music and works for chorus and orchestra.

 

Fantasia on Greensleeves

This exquisite four-minute orchestral miniature was inspired by ‘Greensleeves’, a traditional melody that was doing the rounds in the days of the Tudors and which was put to masterful use here by Vaughan Williams.

He didn’t create it as a stand-alone piece, though; instead, it was initially used in the third act of the composer’s Shakespeare-inspired opera Sir John in Love.

Vaughan Williams once commented, “The art of music above all arts is the expression of the soul of the nation“. In this delightful piece, he manages to capture the very essence of England in music. The serene, pastoral sounds evoke images of bucolic bliss, with lyrical string writing and particularly descriptive flute passages. The title of Fantasia is in some ways misleading: the work is neither long enough nor complex enough to deserve the description; instead, it is a rather faithful setting of the original.

The Fantasia on Greensleeves uses not only the traditional tune alluded to in the title but also the melody ‘Lovely Joan’, which Vaughan Williams came across in Suffolk. In 1934, under the watchful eye of the composer, Ralph Greaves arranged Vaughan Williams’s music into the version we most commonly hear today.

 

The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending is a poem of 122 lines by the English poet George Meredith about the song of the skylark.  The poem inspired the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams to write a musical work of the same name, which is now more widely known than the poem. It was originally composed in 1914 for violin and piano. This had its first public performance in 1920: in the same year the composer re-scored it for solo violin and orchestra, which premiered in 1921, and is the more frequently performed version.

Vaughan Williams dedicated The Lark Ascending to Marie Hall, who premiered both versions. The piano-accompanied premiere was on 15 December 1920, This was followed by the first London performance, and first orchestral performance, on 14 June 1921, with the British Symphony Orchestra under conductor Adrian Boult. The critic from The Times wrote, “It showed serene disregard of the fashions of today or yesterday. It dreamed itself along.” The use of pentatonic scale patterns frees the violin from a strong tonal centre, and expresses impressionistic elements. This liberty also extends to the metre. The cadenzas for solo violin are written without bar lines, lending them a sense of meditational release.

 

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, also known as the Tallis Fantasia, is a work for string orchestra by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was composed in 1910 and performed for the first time in September of that year at Gloucester Cathedral.  Vaughan Williams himself conducted, and the composition proved to be a major success..  He revised the work twice, in 1913 and 1919.

The work takes its name from the original composer of the melody, Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585).  In structure this piece resembles the Elizabethan-age “fantasy.” The theme is heard in its entirety three times during the course of the work, but the music grows from the theme’s constituent motives or fragments, with variations upon them. A secondary melody, based on the original, is first heard on the solo viola about a third of the way into the Fantasia, and this theme forms the climax of the work about five minutes before the end.

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