From The Library… Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph (pro­nounced “Rafe”) Vaugh­an Williams (1872–1958) is one of Britain’s best-loved com­posers, and one who is at last becom­ing more wide­ly recog­nised as a tru­ly great fig­ure in the world of music. 2008 marks the 50th anniver­sary of the com­poser’s death, and as a result we are cel­e­brat­ing his life today – as close to the begin­ning of the year as we could rea­son­ably get, in our first From the Library pro­gramme of the New Year – with per­for­mances of many of his best-known works along with some that will be less famil­iar.

Vaugh­an Williams’s works con­sis­tent­ly head charts of clas­si­cal music ‘hits’ – par­tic­u­lar­ly in the UK – and he is per­haps best know for The Lark Ascend­ing and Fan­ta­sia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, both of which appears in today’s pro­gramme. Yet music did not come eas­i­ly to him – he had to work hard at it to learn the required skills, and over­came the crit­i­cism of many includ­ing his fam­i­ly.

Oth­er peren­ni­al favourites include The Eng­lish Folk Song Suite. The com­pos­er was an avid folk music col­lec­tor and his love of this music influ­enced his entire life: he began col­lect­ing folk songs in Eng­land in 1903 and con­tin­ued to do so until the advent of the First World War, col­lect­ing over 800 songs, car­ols and singing games. At the time of his death in 1958 he was Pres­i­dent of the Eng­lish Folk Dance and Song Soci­ety.

In addi­tion, Vaugh­an Williams com­posed a live­ly med­ley of British Sea Songs which will be famil­iar to old­er British lis­ten­ers from its use as the theme music to the broad­cast adap­ta­tion of the Bil­ly Bunter sto­ries, and also as a start­up theme by Anglia Tele­vi­sion along with an excerpt of Hän­del’s Water Music Suite.

The com­pos­er also wrote a num­ber of film scores, one of the best known being his music for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarc­tic star­ring John Mills, much of which he incor­po­rat­ed into his sev­enth sym­pho­ny, Sin­fo­nia Antar­ti­ca, with its deeply mov­ing, eerie musi­cal vis­tas, which is includ­ed in today’s pro­gramme. Vaugh­an Williams in fact wrote a total of nine sym­phonies (which he did not num­ber until the 9th was com­plet­ed). His first three – The Sea Sym­pho­ny, The Lon­don Sym­pho­ny and the Pas­toral Sym­pho­ny – we will also hear today.

We will also hear the sel­dom-aired orches­tral ver­sion of his Ser­e­nade to Music, orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for and ded­i­cat­ed to Hen­ry J. Wood on the occa­sion of his Jubilee, in grate­ful recog­ni­tion of his ser­vices to music. The orig­i­nal ser­e­nade was writ­ten for six­teen soloists and was set to the words from Act five, scene one of Shake­speare’s The Mer­chant Of Venice, includ­ing Loren­zo’s speech:

How sweet the moon­light sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft still­ness and the night
Become the touch­es of sweet har­mo­ny.
Look, how the floor of heav­en
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the small­est orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings
Still quir­ing to the young-eyed cheru­bins;
Such har­mo­ny is in immor­tal souls;
But, whilst this mud­dy ves­ture of decay
Doth gross­ly close it in, we can­not hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn:
With sweet­est touch­es pierce your mis­tress’ ear,
And draw her home with music….”

Two years lat­er, how­ev­er, Vaugh­an Williams wrote the evoca­tive and mov­ing orches­tral arrange­ment that we will hear in today’s pro­gramme.

Ralph Vaugh­an Williams’s out­put was prodi­gious and today’s pro­gramme can real­ly only scratch the sur­face of this great com­poser’s work.

• This pro­gramme is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life, and pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin. For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

• You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme now at, or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er.

Please note that some of the meta­da­ta from works played in today’s pro­gramme is quite com­plex. As a result the ‘Now Play­ing’ wid­get at the top of this page may not dis­play the cor­rect piece. Winamp or a more sophis­ti­cat­ed meta­da­ta read­er should decode it cor­rect­ly.

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One Response to “From The Library… Ralph Vaughan Williams”

  1. Gabrielle Riel says:


    Gabi love, love, loves Vaugh­an Williams!


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