Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Today is the 50th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams' death. He is arguably one of England's greatest composers and the author of my very favorite piece of music, The Lark Ascending. I am unashamedly a fan (serious music critics consider his stuff too accessible, too "chocolate box" -- I think they are wrong). Read a Times piece here. An agnostic (related to both Darwin and Wedgwood), he wrote some of the most beautiful & rousing Anglican hymns (Come Down O Love Divine, At The Name of Jesus) and there is an inherent Englishness to his work which resonates with me. This is quoted from Wikipedia:

"In Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Peter Ackroyd writes, "If that Englishness in music can be encapsulated in words at all, those words would probably be: ostensibly familiar and commonplace, yet deep and mystical as well as lyrical, melodic, melancholic, and nostalgic yet timeless."

He was stuck for many years in a loving but sexless marriage (his first wife, Adeline was crippled by arthritis), but fell in love with a woman of 27 when he was 65. He began an affair with her and they married when he was free to, at 80. She was the poet, Ursula Wood. His symphonies are wonderful (Symphony No. 1, The Sea Symphony in particular) -- EMI has the boxed set.


sian said...

B - I too am unashamedly a fan. The Beeb did a wonderful programme on him a few months back, with various interviews with people who knew him. Mainly women as he was a bit of a charmer apparently even though he looked a bit 'like an old sofa with stuffing coming out of him' in his later years!

Wonderful love story with Ursula, who helped him care for Adeline at the end.
'Flos Campi' was written for her.


Allison Anders said...

What a great love story! I never knew any of this.

When I moved to London when I was a girl of 18, I had this music firmly planted inside me Fantastia On A Theme Of Thomas Tallis, as what England would be -- well, this and what I imagined Carnaby Street was in the mid 60s, which by the time I got there in '73 was long gone.

I still have the Ralph Vaughan Williams LP I used to listen to in my shared bedroom in Van Nuys, CA. seeing myself in England. When I got to London, my hippy boyfriend turned me on to all sorts of music, Pink Floyd, Bowie, and he also had this same LP I had of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

I didn't have to look far to find what Williams music had caused me to envision. It felt and still feels like what England is to me. Many English trends may come and go-- prog rock, pub rock punk rock, but I will always find THIS music there -- in the country, the city, anywhere I've been. I was right to expect it and it continues to welcome me.

And it is lushly romantic music!