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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams

(1872 - 1958)

Ralph Vaughan Williams (October 12, 1872 - August 26, 1958) received his training from Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford, both composers influenced by Johannes Brahms. Early Vaughan Williams works have their Brahmsian (and Wagnerian) moments, but in the early music that has survived, we hear something absolutely original and unique. Vaughan Williams became enthralled with the English folk song (he was a major collector).

Vaughan Williams fortunately could absorb from diverse sources – including Stravinsky, Brahms, Parry, Debussy, Ravel, Bach, Byrd, and Hindemith – and yet remain absolutely and recognizably himself. After a brief flirtation with French impressionism ("In the Fen Country," String Quartet No. 1) and some study with Maurice Ravel (who called him "the only pupil who does not write my music"), he hit the ground running with his incidental music to Aristophanes's "The Wasps," the song cycle "On Wenlock Edge," and the classic "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis." These are, to my mind, the first works in which we see the "real" Vaughan Williams. From here on, you can't mistake the voice.

Vaughan Williams composed extensively in almost every genre but chamber music. He is one of the great setters of English poetry, and vocal music comprises a large part of his output. Major works include "Five Mystical Songs," "Merciless Beauty," "Sancta Civitas," "Serenade to Music," "Hodie," "10 Blake Songs," and "Dona nobis pacem." He wrote several operas, not one of which has kept the stage: "Hugh the Drover," "The Poisoned Kiss," "Riders to the Sea," "Sir John in Love," and "Pilgrim's Progress." The last three contain magnificent music. "Sir John" in particular is one great tune after another. There's no accounting for taste.

The symphonies, in particular, contain much of Vaughan Williams' range. Not one is like another. Each represents a unique approach to problems of symphonic form. All, however, have great emotional power. He is a major symphonist. ~Steven Schwartz

Vaughan Williams' signature

Recommended Recordings

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis

Nimbus NIM5019
Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Symphony #2/EMI CDC747213-2
Adrian Boult/London Philharmonic Orchestra
Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Oboe Concerto; Concerto Grosso; Greensleeves Fantasy; Tallis Fantasy; Variants on "Dives & Lazarus"/Nimbus NIM5019
William Boughton/English String Orchestra
Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; The Lark Ascending; Symphony #6/Teldec 09031-73127-2
Tasmin Little (violin), Andréw Davis/BBC Symphony Orchestra
Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Charterhouse Suite; Lark Ascending; Violin Concerto/Special Music SCD-8011
Dalia Atlas/Isreal Philharmonic Orchestra

Fantasia on Greensleeves

Chandos CHAN8828
Fantasy on "Greensleeves"; Oboe Concerto; Concerto Grosso; Tallis Fantasy; Tallis Fantasy; Variants on "Dives & Lazarus"/Nimbus NIM5019
William Boughton/English String Orchestra
Fantasy on "Greensleeves"; Symphony #8; Hymn-Tune Preludes; Partita/Chandos CHAN8828
Bryden Thomson/London Symphony Orchestra
Fantasy on "Greensleeves" w/ Pachelbel, Tchaikovsky/Telarc CD-80080
Leonard Slatkin/St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

The Lark Ascending

Argo 414595-2
Romance "The Lark Ascending"; Charterhouse Suite; Tallis Fantasy; Violin Concerto/Special Music SCD-8011
Zina Schiff (violin), Dalia Atlas/Isreal Philharmonic Orchestra
Romance "The Lark Ascending"; Tallis Fantasia; Fantasia on Greensleeves; Variants on "Dives & Lazarus"/Argo 414595-2
Iona Brown (violin), Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields
Romance "The Lark Ascending"; Tallis Fantasia; Symphony #6/Teldec 09031-73127-2
Tasmin Little (violin), Andréw Davis/BBC Symphony Orchestra
Romance "The Lark Ascending"/EMI CDC749770-2
Bradley Creswick (Violin), Richard Hickox/Northern Sinfonia Of England

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Symphonies (Core Repertoire - Start Here!3, 4, 5, 6)

Chandos CHAN9087-91
Symphonies #1-9/Chandos CHAN9087-91
Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Catherine Bott (soprano), Brian Rayner Cook (baritone), Bryden Thomson/London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra


Symphony #1 "The Sea"/EMI CDC747212-2
Sheila Armstrong (soprano), John Carol Case (baritone), Adrian Boult/London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir


Symphonies #2 "London"/EMI CDC747213-2
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult


EMI CDC747213-2
Symphonies #3 "Pastoral" and #5/EMI CDM764018-2
Margaret Price (soprano), Adrian Boult/New Philharmonia Orchestra
Symphonies #4 and 6/EMI CDC747215-2
Adrian Boult/New Philharmonia Orchestra
Symphony #5; Tallis Fantasia/Telarc CD-80158
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Symphony #6; Tuba Concerto/Chandos CHAN8740
London Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
Telarc CD-80158
Symphony #6; Tallis Fantasia; The Lark Ascending/Teldec 09031-73127-2
Andréw Davis/BBC Symphony Orchestra
Symphony #7 "Sinfonia Antartica"/EMI CDC747516-2
Sheila Armstrong (soprano), Bernard Haitink/London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir
Symphony #7 "Sinfonia Antartica"/EMI CDC747216-2
Norma Burrowes (soprano), Adrian Boult/London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir
Symphony #7 "Sinfonia Antartica"/EMI CDM764034-2
Vernon Handley/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic & Choir
Symphonies #8 and 9/EMI CDC747217-2
Adrian Boult/New Philharmonia Orchestra
Trumpet