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Author Topic: Ralph Vaughan Williams  (Read 71627 times)
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Brandon
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« on: December 03, 2004, 06:28:17 AM »

It is my belief that as more and more people listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams, the more and more people will understand his genius. Never in my listening experience has there been a dull moment. RVW has contributed so much to music, and he is often overlooked. His love for music as music develops the beauty (He said that beauty can come from unbeautiful things) of the art of music.

His symphonies speak volumes to me, and his fantasias and choral works are mystifying and delightfyl. I will venture to say that there is not a piece that I do not like from Ralph Vaughan Williams!

Specific Favorites:
Symphony No. 8 in D Minor, Symphony No. 6 in E Minor, Symphony no. 5 in D Major, Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, The Tallis Fantasia, Mass in G Minor, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, The Lark Ascending, and Flourish for Wind Band.  Smiley

Tell me, just for enjoyment reasons, your thoughts on RVW.

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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2004, 09:13:09 AM »

Brandon,

I share a similar love for the music of Vaughan Williams, which I have followed for over 30 years. My selection of favourites would be similar to yours but I would add Symphony 9 (have you hard the newly released 1958 Stokowski recording on Cala?), Dona Nobis Pacem, Sancta Civitas and Epithalamion, a beautiful late work. I also like the Piano Concerto and the late Violin Sonata and the original version of A London Symphony.
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2004, 12:23:32 PM »

Last week I heard an excellent BBC Radio 3 discussion about Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. It was fascinating to hear the original piece by Thomas Tallis and then explore how its rhythmic and harmonic properties moved Ralph Vaughan Williams to base his work upon it. I've known and loved this work for decades, but my appreciation of this masterpiece has grown considerably because the radio presentation highlighted fresh perspectives for me. It felt almost as I were hearing this music for the first time. It's déjà vu all over again.

BBC Radio 3: Discovering Music: Tallis Fantasia
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/discoveringmusic/ram/cdmwk0123.ram

To cite one example: It was impressive to hear the BBC programme compare the etherial radiant G Major opening chords of the Tallis Fantasia to the equally etherial opening chords of Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler and Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question. Wow! I had never noticed the resemblance before, but it's right!

Another reason I heartily enjoyed the BBC Radio 3 discussion was that it placed RVW's Tallis Fantasia into its proper context as a pivotal work in the development of English music. Whereas the English idiom is clearly evident in the music of Sir Edward Elgar, it is absolutely unmistakable in the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. His Tallis Fantasy is among the most masterful examples of this. RVW seemed to collect almost every English folk tune and church hymn he could find. His usage of their tonal and harmonic language helped establish the character of his music, as distinctly English as the music of other composers might be distinctly French or German or American.

One of the joys of fine music is that no matter how much we may know about it, there are still plenty of fresh discoveries to be made.
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« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2004, 08:18:54 AM »

To cite one example: It was impressive to hear the BBC programme compare the etherial radiant G Major opening chords of the Tallis Fantasia to the equally etherial opening chords of Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler and Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question. Wow! I had never noticed the resemblance before, but it's right!

David, thanks for another very perceptive post.  It makes me want to program a little mini-listening session with all three pieces! 

I have loved Vaughan Williams' music from a very early age, when we had the old Ormandy/Philadelphia recording with Fantasia on Greensleeves (still a sentimental favorite) and I've enjoyed the Tallis Fantasia often, both live and recorded.  Recently I bought the Haitink/LPO 8th and 9th Symphonies -- a wonderful recording.

Just this past spring I had a sublime concert experience, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Spano at Carnegie Hall, doing A Sea Symphony.  I had never heard the piece live, and it was a stunner.  One of the thoughts afterward was: Why isn't this piece done in the concert hall more often? 

--Bruce
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« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2004, 10:56:51 AM »

All 9 symphonies by Ralph Vaughan Williams are superb, but I have a special place in my heart for his final 3 symphonies. These seem to be overshadowed by his named (the first 3) and unnamed (the middle 3) symphonies. All 3 late symphonies were works by a composer in his 80s, although of course the materials for Sinfonia Antartica (No. 7) date several years earlier from his score to the film Scott of the Antarctic. Nonetheless, in his old age RVW created music as masterful as ever.

Symphony No. 8 in D Minor is great fun, and shows that a minor key need not be the least bit gloomy.  RVA wrote: "The symphony is scored for what is known as a 'Schubert' orchestra: with the addition of a harp. Also there is a large supply of extra percussion, including all the 'phones and 'spiels known to the composer." These extra percussion feature prominently in the jubilant finale.

Symphony No. 9 in E Minor may be my favorite, perhaps because it is the most visionary and problematic. Just before his death at age 86, RVW seemed to forge new paths which unfortunately he did not live to pursue. None of the 4 movements is in a traditional form, and the music develops freely, although not completely successfully. It is generally a somber work, but very concentrated and expressive. Perhaps its great attraction to me is that of a flawed or rough masterpiece, and as such it seems to live and breathe every time I hear it.

It should be noted that RVW's most personal addition to symphonic form -- the Epilogue -- appears in most of his earlier symphonies, and indeed it is the entire finale of Sinfonia Antartica. However, the Epilogue is completely absent from Nos. 8 and 9.

I first heard these works when I was 17 and immediately fell in love with them. Now, 3 decades later, my admiration is undimmed.
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Brandon
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« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2004, 01:07:47 PM »



I first heard these works when I was 17 and immediately fell in love with them. Now, 3 decades later, my admiration is undimmed.


 Cheesy Something we have in common! I was first introduced to RVW when I was 17 (I am only a year older than that). English music has always lured me in when I was first attracted to Holst's Planets at 16. Naturally RVW would come into my life through Holst.

And I agree as well on the final three symphonies. Though my absolute favorite is the 8th, RVW's later works are invigorating. Truly a good composer.
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« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2004, 09:38:21 PM »

By the way, the Fantasia, though it doesn't sound especially complicated, is a devil to play.
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« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2004, 11:00:04 PM »

I first heard these works when I was 17 and immediately fell in love with them. Now, 3 decades later, my admiration is undimmed.

I was also 17 when I fell in love with the Music of Vaughan Williams and it is now three decades later for me also!

I was fortunate in that my 17th birthday fell in 1972 at the time of the Vaughan Williams centenary and as I then lived in central London I was able to see Boult conduct the 8th Symphony, Job (first time I heard that work) and On Wenlock Edge on 12th October 1972 (VW's 100th birthday), at around the same time I saw Boult conduct the Fifth Symphony etc at Westminster Abbey in London (where VW's ashes are buried). I sent a letter of appreciation to Ursula Vaughan Williams, VW's second wife (still alive in her 90s) who sent me back an inscribed copy of VW's essays "National Music and other Essays"

I was really pleased to recently find a CD of that !2th Oct. 72 concert (including Job and On Wenlock Edge) in a second hand CD shop (Intaglio CD)

I think that Job is one of VW's finest works and it has been lucky in that all the CD versions are good (favourites are Boult's last EMI recording, he recorded it four times, five if you include the live concert). This is unsurprising as the work is dedicated to him.

I would recommend the Vaughan Williams Society (there is a website) who produce a rather good Journal three times a year.
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« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2004, 01:17:12 AM »

Aha, found it.  Very interesting indeed.

Ralph Vaughan Williams Society
http://www.rvwsociety.com
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2004, 03:50:42 PM »

I was also 17 when I fell in love with the Music of Vaughan Williams and it is now three decades later for me also!

      Wow, me too... except for the three decades later part! Cheesy

      I actually became acquainted with a lot of his string orchestra works before I even knew he wrote any symphonies. On one of the "listening" threads, the Tallis Fantasia came up, and someone recommended me the highly original 5 Variants on Dives & Lazarus, which I have come to admire, along with a slew of other works such as the Oboe Concerto and the Harmonica Romance.

      The 2nd is probably one of my favorite symphonies by any composer.
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« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2004, 09:45:21 PM »

      The 2nd is probably one of my favorite symphonies by any composer.

Dana,

Do you know the recently restored original version of A London Symphony (Chandos/Hickox)? Whatever the symphony gained in structural coherence, when VW revised it in 1936, it lost in poetic beauty as the composer excised some really lovely sections, especially just before the end.

I was really pleased to go to the first performance, in over eighty years of the original version when it was performed a year or two back ar the Barbican Centre in London.  What is your preferred recorded version of Symphony 2? I like the recordings by Hickox, Previn, Boult and Barbirolli the best.
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« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2004, 01:26:56 AM »

I first heard these works when I was 17 and immediately fell in love with them. Now, 3 decades later, my admiration is undimmed.

My first exposure to VWms was in high school, thru his famous band works - the English Folk Song Suite and the Toccata Marziale - both band classics...

when in conservatory I got to play the 6th symphony with Walter Hendl conducting. that was a real highlight for me...he quickly sorted out the rhythmic figures- the 6/4 against the 12/8 in the first mvt. it provides that sort of threobbing rhythm underneath an unsettled tho lyrical melody played over it...
the intensity and drama of the work came thru very clearly. it was very exciting to play.

the conductor of my orchestra at present is an Englishmen, and he excels at this repertoire - he studied with Boult, Sargent, etc, knew Barbirollli, had met VWms several times.. we just recently played the London Sym[#2] again, it is was a powerfully dramatic performance...

I'm trying to get him to do Sym#4!! either that or Walton #1.
that would be awesome.


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« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2004, 02:23:04 AM »

My first exposure to RVW was the Greensleeves Fantasia, which i've avoided listening to for the last few years, as it was played practically hourly on the radio station I listened to as a teen and consequently I have tired of it. Perhaps now is the time to revisit!

I've found the symphonies very affecting. It was No.7 that I heard first and the one that I probably still turn to most often. The music  depicts the cold, ice and the barren landscape perfectly, which you can't fail to be awed at. It just goes to show the composer's genius that [i'm pretty sure] even if you played this music to someone who didn't know the subject matter, that they would almost certainly guess it correctly.

Out of all the other symphonies, i'm hard pressed to find pick a favourite, I love them all, but No.2 is perhaps the most affecting of them all. Even though it depicts Edwardian London, I still identify very strongly with the work, perhaps as only a fellow Englishman can do. I also turn often to No.4, exciting, modern and thoroughly exciting.
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« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2004, 02:53:34 AM »

I also turn often to No.4, exciting, modern and thoroughly exciting.

#4 is probably my favorite, albeit it is so violent, angry and brutal...I guess it was VWms belated reaction to the terrible violence and destruction of WWI.

it presents a dramatic contrast to the pastoral, peaceful, memorial-like #3. again, the theme, I think , is related to the terrible losses in World WarI. the lovely, but desolate, tragic trumpet solo in the 2nd movement is very striking and effective. a lonely, elegaic "bugle call" sounded over a now-silent but haunted battlefield. powerful stuff.
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2004, 07:03:32 AM »



#$ is probably my favorite, albeit it is so violent, angry and brutal...I guess it was VWms belated reaction to the terrible violence and destruction of WWI.

it presents a dramatic contrast to the pastoral, peaceful, memorial-like #3. again, the theme, I think , is related to the terrible losses in World WarI. the lovely, but desolate, tragic trumpet solo in the 2nd movement is very striking and effective. a lonely, elegaic "bugle call" sounded over a now-silent but haunted battlefield. powerful stuff.

Perhaps, but you'd have got a scowl from VW himself for reading into his works.

Quote from: Vaughan Williams
"Don't they understand a man might just want to write a piece of music?"
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