Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams was born in 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 favourites (For all the Saints, Come down O love Divine). Later he also helped to edit The Oxford Book of Carols, with similar success.

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.

Before the war he had met and then sustained a long and deep friendship with the composer Gustav Holst. 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 in 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.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1904 In the Fen Country 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1935

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1905-1906 Norfolk Rhapsody 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
1903-1909 A Sea Symphony (No 1) 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1923

Felicity Lott - Soprano
Jonathan Summers - Baritone
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1908-1909 On Wenlock Edge 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Orchestrated in 1923

Ian Bostridge - Tenor
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1909 The Wasps - Ouverture 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult

1910 Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1919

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1913 A London Symphony (No 2) 4.50 stars CD
Comments:
Original Version

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Richard Hickox

1912-1913 A London Symphony (No 2) 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1933

Felicity Lott - Soprano
Jonathan Summers - Baritone
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1914 The Lark Ascending 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1920

Sarah Chang - Violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1921 A Pastoral Symphony (No 3) 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1923

Amanda Roocroft - Soprano
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1927-1930 Job--A Masque for Dancing 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult

1931-1934 Symphony No 4 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
1938 Serenade to Music 4.00 stars LP
Comments:
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

Recorded at The Last Night at the Proms

1938-1943 Symphony No 5 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1951

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1944-1947 Symphony No 6 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1950

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1949-1952 Symphony No 7 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:

Sheila Armstrong - Soprano
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1953-1955 Symphony No 8 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1956

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

1956-1957 Symphony No 9 4.00 stars CD
nautical Preludes Comments:
Revised in 1958

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink

Compilation The Filmmusic of Ralph Vaughan Williams 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Scott of the Antarctic
The People's Land
Coastal Command

BBC Philharmonic cond. Rumon Gamba

Compilation Folksong Arrangements 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Vaughan Williams did not so much compose as collect the songs on this disc, that is, he took them down as musical dictation from aged folk singers who themselves were not the composers but merely the transmitters of the songs. All Vaughan Williams really did was clean them up a bit and give them piano accompaniments, but in doing so he gave the songs a whole audience and a whole new life. These 21 songs recorded for EMI in 1976 by tenor Robert Tear and pianist Philip Ledger come from Wessex, East Anglia, Herefordshire, France, and even Newfoundland, and they are sweet with the juice of life. Vaughan Williams' accompaniments, even the addition of the violin in three songs, are strong, solid, and discrete, always supporting the melody but never getting in its way. Tear is a sensitive singer who clearly relishes the repertoire, and his performances are heartfelt and sincere. Ledger faithfully stands behind Tear, and Hugh Bean provides a lovely violin obbligato in his three songs. As a bonus, EMI provides a 1963 recording of Vaughan Williams' Six Studies in English Folk Song performed on viola by the composer's friend Jean Stewart accompanied by pianist Daphne Ibbott. In both cases, the stereo sound is clear, warm, and immediate, though the later recording is a bit lusher and the earlier recording is a tad closer.