Author Topic: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work  (Read 2828 times)

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Lilas Pastia

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The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« on: October 07, 2012, 05:58:37 PM »
Once again, a thread dedicated to discuss what constitutes for the listener (that's you!) the essence of a specific composer's musical style and language.

It's not easy to choose a particular composer for that kind of finding mission. I will avoid composers who are known almost exclusively for their work in a specific genre, whether they are symphonists (Bruckner, Mahler) or opera composers  (Verdi, Puccini, Wagner). A composer who wrote and excelled in many genres can appeal to different layers of musical tastes, different kinds of listeners, and we have more chances for a fruitful discussion.

So, why is Vaughan-Williams  appealing to you? And what work would you consider to epitomize the qualities you seek in his music?

Summary: VW wrote small as well as large-scale works, his oeuvre spans over 6 decades and has from the get go been recognized as that of an accomplished and original composer. He wrote in a resolutely tonal, conservative idiom and he freely borrowed from various traditions. Known for popular orchestral works such as the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Fantasia on Greesleeves or The Lark Ascending, he also wrote on vast canvases (A Sea Symphony), freely used popular and religious subjects alike, and was a past master at writing for both the orchestra and massed voices.

For a non professional it is hard to pinpoint specifics of his musical language. And yet everybody can recognise a VW work in a mere seconds. His sound world is as surely identifiable as that of his contemporaries Sibelius or Ravel.

My take on 'the essence of Vaughan-Williams': after much hesitation, I went for what may be his most famous work, one that has never been out of the concert halls or recording studios: his magical, haunting, moving and incredibly sophisticated Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

The Fantasia's instrumentation calls for a full size string section, a  smaller string section (single desks only) and a string quartet. The richness and deep sonority of the ensemble is breathtaking. It evokes vastness, timelessness, longing and fulfillment, visions of eternity as well as memories of times long gone. In just 15 minutes this work has the capacity to evoke vast expanses of time as well as space. I find it uniquely evocative.

The Tallis Fantasia shows VW's sophistication as a composer. Many of his works freely incorporate specific instruments as an additional voice (such as the violin in Job), sometimes in an almost concertante role (Flos Campi). With a wealth of amateur and professional choirs available at will throughout England he composed many works for voices. He even indulged in writing the beautiful Serenade to Music for a group of 16 famous soloists of the time. He also wrote many concertos (tuba, violin, piano, oboe), operas, oratorios, ballets, etc. The catholicity of his tastes was astounding. And yet in the Fantasia he restricted himself to one of the most difficult idioms, writing strictly for strings in a langage much indebted to the old viol consorts. Far from sounding academic or scholarly, the work liberates tons of musocal emotions. Its evocative power is unique among strings only works.  Strauss in Metamorphosen chooses to turn inward and evoke mostly negative feelings (sorrow, pain, unresolved tensions, regret, bitterness and, ultimately, death. Vaughan-Williams also evokes some of those feelings, but everything in the end is sublimated by an engulfing feeling of catharsis. When the work ends we have come full circle. Affliction and heartache are left behind, consolation and peacefulness linger gently.

Many other works could be chosen (I'll let you fellow posters do that ;)). That is a measure of the greatness of a composer I consider among the four or five giants of his century.

Try to 'walk the plank' $:) and zero in on a specific work, and let us know your thoughts on the music and the composer.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2012, 06:34:34 PM »
Vaughan Williams has been one of my favorites for many years. Again, like so many of these composers you're choosing to spotlight, there's so many different sides to their musical personalities. One work couldn't possibly sum them up. I would say the one work that really perked me up was his Symphony No. 5. It doesn't matter how many times I've listened to this symphony, there is something enigmatic, passionate, majestic, radiant, and nostalgic about this particular work for me. The third movement Romanza is one of RVW's most gorgeous creations and each time I hear this specific movement I'm given some kind of hope that there's good in this world after all. After the terse Symphony No. 4, the 5th comes as bit of a surprise, but like Sibelius' 6th, I think there's something beneath the surface festering here. This symphony is careful not to show you it's true colors though and I don't think it ever does but it does leave a person with the impression that there's more than meets the eye, which is why I used the adjective enigmatic in describing the work.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2012, 06:37:11 PM by Mirror Image »
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DavidW

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2012, 04:35:40 AM »
Either Symphony #5 or 6.  But I have not exhaustively heard enough of RVW to really know.

CaughtintheGaze

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2012, 05:15:27 AM »
I'm torn between two works: A Sea Symphony and The Lark Ascending. If I was pressed, I'd say A Sea Symphony though.

Lilas Pastia

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2012, 05:52:37 AM »
"Majestic, radiant, nostalgic" are adjectives that can be used for  VW works. "Enigmatic", too. I certainly hear it in the Sea symphony, the 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, Towards the Unknown Region, the Serenade to Music, Job, the list could go on and on.

IMO nothing rivals the opening of A Sea Symphony for majesty and radiance. Where Mahler (in his 8th) crushes you under a thunderous organ chord, Vaughan-Williams pins you down to your seat before lifting you up in a tremendous ascending current.

MI, you mention quite rightly that the composers chosen have many different sides to their personality. That's what fascinates me. The versatility of their genius can be heard in many musical genres. Whatever the medium chosen, the personality is there, the métier, the genius, the individuality of the sound world. It's impossible - and futile - to find a "greatest" work, or one that encompasses every facet of their genius. As listeners we are all different.


Offline ChamberNut

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2012, 07:27:38 AM »
Job:  A Masque for Dancing

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Symphony No. 5 or 6
Location:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Offline vandermolen

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2012, 12:58:35 PM »
For me it's Symphony No 6 which combines the violence of No 4 with the spirituality of No 5 to create a most disturbing synthesis.  The ghostly Epilogue with its 'eerie progression through a bleak wasteland' (Gilbert Burnett) is one of his finest inspirations. However I'd be happy to live with the Tallis Fantasia or Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus as alternatives.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Lodger

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2012, 07:53:55 PM »
The Lark Ascending, since I first heard it, has been, and probably always will be my favorite piece of music. It is at once pastoral and ethereal. It brings out the spirituality of the world around us. I can't exactly explain why, but anytime I put it on all my stress melts away. I used to work near a park and spend my lunch breaks there, listening to The Lark Ascending and watching the birds. He musically captures flight so well. And yes, they are just birds flying around a field, and you see it all the time everyday, but there's something magical about it when you take the time to pay attention. That's what so much of VW's music does for me; takes the world that has become ordinary and mundane over the years and reawakens and reminds me of the wonder that I've grown accustomed and numb to.

Offline TheGSMoeller

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2012, 08:03:01 PM »
Another vote here for The Lark Ascending.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2012, 07:16:17 AM »
Enduringly fond of The Lark, myself, ever since I was listening to it one evening, and the missus came in, liked what she heard, and started dancing to it.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2012, 07:34:54 AM »
Another fan of The Lark Ascending here. It's simply one of those works that never fails to give me so much joy. RVW seemed to toy with the idea of nostalgia a lot in his works. I certainly get this in The Lark.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline vandermolen

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2012, 09:32:11 AM »
After seeing Pilgrim's Progress in London last night I think that maybe this work reveals the essence of Vaughan Williams.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline mszczuj

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2012, 10:06:08 AM »
I am not pretty sure if the essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found in The Lark Ascending but I do know that the Essence can be found in it

Offline Christo

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2018, 04:25:07 AM »
For me it's Symphony No 6 which combines the violence of No 4 with the spirituality of No 5 to create a most disturbing synthesis.  The ghostly Epilogue with its 'eerie progression through a bleak wasteland' (Gilbert Burnett) is one of his finest inspirations. However I'd be happy to live with the Tallis Fantasia or Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus as alternatives.
Agree with all three. As for the symphonies: the Sixth is probably the first option, though I sometimes think it's the Pastoral, or even the Ninth.
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline relm1

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2018, 06:12:46 AM »
Very easy question.  The single work that encapsulates RVW is The Pilgrims Progress because it contains Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, Symphony No. 5, violent music, spiritual music, pastoral music and was written throughout his adult life. 

Offline Irons

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #15 on: October 25, 2018, 07:26:41 AM »
I actually think it an impossible question. If hypothetically a person well versed in classical music and yet not heard a single RVW piece and not read a single word about him, which work would you play? RVW lived a long life and at no time did he cease to evolve. Take the symphonies for example, the third and eighth are miles apart in mood and content but both are equally great. For me, the great attraction in RVW is whatever mood I am in he wrote a work that is a match for it.
The familiar rat-a-tat of enemy machine-guns joined the melee. It was like an orchestra from hell, it’s tune being played out by the instruments of death. - The Sun Will Always Shine, John R McKay.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #16 on: October 25, 2018, 08:05:04 AM »
I actually think it an impossible question. If hypothetically a person well versed in classical music and yet not heard a single RVW piece and not read a single word about him, which work would you play? RVW lived a long life and at no time did he cease to evolve.

There is the nub:  can there be a “single essential work” for a composer who evolves throughout his career.  Maybe there can, when the composer remains true to himself always.  So, perhaps our André is not far wrong in nominating the Tallis Fantasia.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
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His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline relm1

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #17 on: October 25, 2018, 04:30:13 PM »
There is the nub:  can there be a “single essential work” for a composer who evolves throughout his career.  Maybe there can, when the composer remains true to himself always.  So, perhaps our André is not far wrong in nominating the Tallis Fantasia.

I disagree.  Artists are constantly in transitional phases and one could argue they have a "greatest" work that is the summation of their achievement.  Take Shakespeare for example.  He had many facets.  Poetic, romantic (Sonnets and Romeo), vengeful (Titus Andronicus), mythical (Anthony and Cleopatra), comedic (Midsummer Nights), etc., but most consider Hamlet the culmination of all of these aspects so one could argue that is his single work that captured his essence however we understand more of the nuance of the artist the more we read.  That is true with any artist.  Shostakovich's No. 5 captures the drama, dirge, triumph exceptionally well but there are many examples in his oeuvre of any one of these aspects.  Same with Mahler, et al.  There can still be a single work that summarizes who they are and where they'll go.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2018, 04:32:11 PM by relm1 »

Offline Irons

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #18 on: October 26, 2018, 12:37:46 AM »
I disagree.  Artists are constantly in transitional phases and one could argue they have a "greatest" work that is the summation of their achievement.  Take Shakespeare for example.  He had many facets.  Poetic, romantic (Sonnets and Romeo), vengeful (Titus Andronicus), mythical (Anthony and Cleopatra), comedic (Midsummer Nights), etc., but most consider Hamlet the culmination of all of these aspects so one could argue that is his single work that captured his essence however we understand more of the nuance of the artist the more we read.  That is true with any artist.  Shostakovich's No. 5 captures the drama, dirge, triumph exceptionally well but there are many examples in his oeuvre of any one of these aspects.  Same with Mahler, et al.  There can still be a single work that summarizes who they are and where they'll go.

Is "the essence" and "the greatest" the same thing? Or the most famous come to that. There are composers, Bruch for example, where they - probably to the composer's annoyance - are known for one work. Great composers, of which I count RVW as one, are so much more then that. DSCH 5th was, like most, my introduction to the composer and I still rate it a great work but I disagree it is the essence of him. Where is the humour of the following 6th symphony, the homage to Bach in the piano works or the austere bleakness of his late chamber works? I am not a great Mahler fan, but love the 9th Symphony, possibly because it is not the essence of him. Where would you go for the essence of Sibelius - I wouldn't know where to start!
The familiar rat-a-tat of enemy machine-guns joined the melee. It was like an orchestra from hell, it’s tune being played out by the instruments of death. - The Sun Will Always Shine, John R McKay.

Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: The essence of Vaughan-Williams can be found on THIS work
« Reply #19 on: October 26, 2018, 12:56:22 AM »
For many artists their greatest work is the one they are currently working on........