British composer R. Vaughan Williams

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Has anyone heard anything by this guy? I just had this extremely spiritual experience wherein I tracked down my long-lost favorite choral director from high school on Instant Messenger, and asked her about this song I had been trying to remember for so long -

once she had us sing The Lover's Ghost, by R. Vaughn Williams. It was like five parts, a gorgeous, languid choral piece. This is a long shot, I guess, but if anyone's into anything by this person I'd be really interested to hear about it.

Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 06:56 (thirteen years ago) link

This is one of my favorite classical discs. Incredible music and performance, and it's only $8! Otherwise, there's an EMI greatest recordings of the century disc with some Elgar. Here:

definitely a neglected composer (although i think he's very popular with aging british music critics).

poortheatre, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:07 (thirteen years ago) link

Check out "The Lark Ascending" and "On Wenlock Edge". Yr mind = blown.

It's mostly all great tho. We used to play the "Fantasia on Greensleeves" and part of the "Sea Symphony" when I was in the school orchestra.

Noodle Vague, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:10 (thirteen years ago) link


Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:12 (thirteen years ago) link

(Kate Bush is a fan too - Aerial has some v, Vaughan Williams moments.

Noodle Vague, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:15 (thirteen years ago) link

oh my gosh! i didn't even think about that! i just love it when things like this happen. i feel like life just found me for 2 minutes.

Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:16 (thirteen years ago) link

or Houdns of Love, no?? i feel there is some stuff there that reminds me of the sound

Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:16 (thirteen years ago) link

"Flos Campi" is beautiful. I think Boyd Rice sampled from it on that last NoN album.

jaybabcock, Thursday, 26 July 2007 07:48 (thirteen years ago) link

"Serenade To Music" is fantastic.

Turangalila, Thursday, 26 July 2007 09:41 (thirteen years ago) link

His sixth symphony is underrated--one of my favorites.

Joe, Thursday, 26 July 2007 12:22 (thirteen years ago) link

guess who's doing a big Amazon order tomorrow when i get paid? me! thanks guys this is great

Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 14:51 (thirteen years ago) link

The guy was great, and is a shamefully under-rated/neglected composer. His music includes some of the most uplifting shit I have ever heard, I think he is one of the great 20th century composers.

"London Symphony", "Symphonia Antarctica", "Pastoral Symphony", "Job, a masque for dancing" are some of my favourites, I can't think of anything I have by him that I don't like.

the "Decca London English Series" of CDs from the '90's are worth hunting out, if you can find them. I think they're all OOP, but they should be cheap, lots of RVW titles, and a bunch of other stuff in a like vein from his contemporaries Holst's "Savitri" and "Egdon Heath" are particularly good. they came in really nice looking themed packaging, looking like '30's railway posters of Brian Cook Batsford Book covers.

Pashmina, Thursday, 26 July 2007 15:10 (thirteen years ago) link


1. Symphony 6
2. Symphony 5
3. Dona Nobis Pacem (big choral work w/ orchestra)
4. On Wenlock Edge (orchestral version preferred)
5. Flos Campi
6. Tallis Fantasia
7. Five Tudor Portraits (another big choral/orch piece)
8. Symphony 2
9. Symphony 4
10. Serenade To Music

Pashmina's recommendation of that Decca series seconded. The big RVW box in that is a remastering of Boult's mono era symphony cycle.

Jon Lewis, Thursday, 26 July 2007 16:28 (thirteen years ago) link

Fuck I forgot Norfolk Rhapsody nr. 1.

Swap out Serenade To Music for that.

Jon Lewis, Thursday, 26 July 2007 17:25 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm singing "The Call" at my brother's wedding.

HI DERE, Thursday, 26 July 2007 17:27 (thirteen years ago) link

so wait has anyone heard The Lover's Ghost? it's sooooo beautiful. i can't wait to explore the rest of this stuff

Surmounter, Thursday, 26 July 2007 17:29 (thirteen years ago) link

I have a CD of his hymns, sung by a couple of British church choirs, which is quite nice.

o. nate, Friday, 27 July 2007 14:58 (thirteen years ago) link

oh geez that sounds like something i would LOVE

Surmounter, Friday, 27 July 2007 15:00 (thirteen years ago) link

He's the anglophile motherlode.

IIRC Ultramarine are big fans, I think so to is Robert Wyatt.

Dunno, I hear, um, echoes of him in Slowdive and Talk Talk. But that might just be me.

Check this:

PhilK, Sunday, 29 July 2007 19:29 (thirteen years ago) link

I can't remember the title of the CD or the name of the choirs, but I think it's on Chandos and I think it has a green cover.

o. nate, Monday, 30 July 2007 17:03 (thirteen years ago) link

There's also a pretty new disc of RVW choral stuff on Hyperion.

Jon Lewis, Monday, 30 July 2007 18:06 (thirteen years ago) link

seven months pass...

so i finally got a hold of the lover's ghost (i work slow, what can i say?) and it's still great! sounds arpeggiated in a serene, languid way. will put some vaughan williams on at work tomorrow :-)

Surmounter, Tuesday, 11 March 2008 00:49 (twelve years ago) link

how come no one has mentioned 'fantazia on a theme by thomas tallis'? it's stunning.

or something, Tuesday, 11 March 2008 01:43 (twelve years ago) link

I like all the symphonies and Flos Campi.
The Fantazia is overplayed in Britain, so i find it hard to enjoy that anymore, though I thank it for making me explore Tallis.
The Serenade to Music and the songs were magical first time round, ever after cheesy as hell.

definitely a neglected composer (although i think he's very popular with aging british music critics).

He may well be neglected elsewhere, in this country we hear too much of his (poorer) music. It's understandable why some younger music fans might get sea-sick of him and his language. He was at his best when at his least english, if that's an intelligible criticism (i'm willing to accept it's not). The symphonies incorporate German and French elements to the music's benefit.
You can tell he's somebody i'm conflicted on. Well worth exploring anyway Surmounter, so enjoy it.

Frogman Henry, Tuesday, 11 March 2008 02:02 (twelve years ago) link

That link Phil K. posted upthread was quite wonderful. Kate Bush without the Kate. Or something.

I'll have to look up Lover's Ghost. Can't someone just recommend a single CD I can buy?

Bimble, Tuesday, 11 March 2008 03:35 (twelve years ago) link

four years pass...

Dipping into this:

Amazing trove. Anyone else spent some time with it?

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 17:24 (eight years ago) link

Particularly enjoying the chamber music.

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 17:43 (eight years ago) link

I love The Lark Ascending and the Sea Symphony (and I feel like I have a Variations on a Theme By Thomas Tallis by him, too?) but haven't heard any of his chamber music - I should check it out, eh?

plastic surgery dizbusters (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Sunday, 18 March 2012 17:47 (eight years ago) link

I am just so used to Germanic string quartets that RVW's work in this idiom has some strongly refreshing qualities for me. Recommended!

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 18:04 (eight years ago) link

Namely disc 13, with the Violin Sonata, the Phantasy Quintet, 6 Studies in English Folksong (cello and piano version), and the String Quartet No. 2.

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 18:05 (eight years ago) link

The Tallis Fantasia is monolithic BTW - revisit it!

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 18:06 (eight years ago) link

That EMI box is a great deal. I have a lot of the single releases from it so I can't really justify, but a great deal.

I have only listened to his chamber music off and on because I keep coming back to Dona Nobis Pacem, the Five Tudor Songs, On Wenlock Edge, Flos Campi and ~especially~ over and over again the incredible run of symphonies 4 through 6. Violent rage (4), transcendence of spirit (5), and a bizarre post-everything desolation (6).

In the big EMI box, did they use their Paavo Berglund versions of syms 4 and 6 and the Alexander Gibson of sym 5, or do they just use the Boult symphony cycle? The former, I hope-- those are top-notch performances. Boult is soft for me in this uncompromising music.

Axolotl with an Atlatl (Jon Lewis), Sunday, 18 March 2012 18:33 (eight years ago) link

Actually neither: Vernon Handley and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I might have to diversify as per your instructions. BTW sorry to harass but did you receive my mails re: Debussy?

Lil' Kim Philby (Call the Cops), Sunday, 18 March 2012 19:04 (eight years ago) link

Lol synergies; I'm singing a couple of solos from "Five Mystical Songs" in a concert next week ("Love Gave Me Flowers" and the second verse of "The Call"). We're also doing "Antiphon" and "Bitter-Sweet".

Dude is a choral master IMO.

thuggish ruggish Brahms (DJP), Sunday, 18 March 2012 19:36 (eight years ago) link

Ah-- well I have Handley in the 6th and 9th and those are both excellent performances. I'll bet that's a worthwhile cycle.

The Berglund/Gibson sym 4-6 trilogy is on a cheapo EMI double with Silvestri's renditions of Tallis and The Wasps as filler.

LOL I really need to change my ILX email from my yahoo to my gmail. I'll go check the yahoo now to see what you wrote me abt Debussy!

DJP that's awesome, 5 Mystical Songs is great. Same concert as the Bach cantata?

Axolotl with an Atlatl (Jon Lewis), Monday, 19 March 2012 00:11 (eight years ago) link

OK I replied!

Axolotl with an Atlatl (Jon Lewis), Monday, 19 March 2012 00:20 (eight years ago) link

No, the cantata was today as prelude to the church service.

thuggish ruggish Brahms (DJP), Monday, 19 March 2012 02:56 (eight years ago) link

eight years pass...

I'm tempted to poll his symphonies but I doubt anyone would participate.

I think I've finally made peace with his music after many years of relative bafflement due to his inflated reputation in the UK (which is perfectly understandable btw). So I would now argue that his output is generally quite strong and considerably more imaginative than I would acknowledge in my arch-modernist moments of yore. Re-acquainting myself with the symphonies over a period of several months via Andrew Davis's cycle at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra has likely made a difference insofar as he takes a cooler, less jingoistic and heart-on-sleeve view of the music, and I generally trust Davis's credentials more than those of his peers since he is a noted conductor of late 20th century music (Birtwistle and Takemitsu, among others) in addition to excelling in the traditional British repertoire (his Elgar is wonderful as well, and I dislike Elgar).

I doubt I'll ever fully crack the choral Sea Symphony, which smacks of Victorianism despite it being a Walt Whitman setting, the London Symphony sounds lopsided even in its revised version, and the Sinfonia antartica does unfortunately come across as a series of episodic fragments when divorced from the accompanying film, but the less immediately programmatic works are all excellent: the 3rd is far less pastoral than its ostensible title might indicate (ghosts of the trenches linger between its melodic lines), the 4th is positively seething, a battering ram, and the 5th is fully deserving of its plaudits as a moving homage to Sibelius. The quasi inaudible final movement of the 6th is borderline Cageian in its conceptual daring, and the timbral experiments of his final two symphonies, while mild in comparison with what some of his contemporaries were attempting at the time (and even late Nielsen tbh), are lovely nonetheless and I'd frankly take them over most of Shostakovich's weaker symphonies. Job: A Masque for Dancing makes for a wonderful addition to Davis's set, deploying a more acerbic musical language, in line with the 4th Symphony, and both The Lark Ascending and the Tallis Fantasia leave me as wide-eyed as ever, overplayed though they may be.

I'm still waiting for a definitive cycle, though. Aside from the Davis, I liked Haitink's and Boult's, but all three have significant flaws (to varying degrees).

pomenitul, Thursday, 10 September 2020 21:11 (one week ago) link

that seems like a very fair summation, i've been listening to him a fair bit this summer, and tho of course it's not High Modernism there is a definite strand of modernist and 20th century music running thru him, from the engagement with folk music to the uses of texture and volume and "drift" for want of a better word. it might say something that he's never been fully swallowed by the flag-waving crowd in the way poor undeserving Elgar has been

how do i shot moon? (Noodle Vague), Friday, 11 September 2020 10:28 (one week ago) link

I like his folky stuff the best but that's predominantly the source material - the rest of his stuff I can take or leave. Sinfonia Antarctica probably the most tedious thing I have ever sat through in a concert environment.

Matt DC, Friday, 11 September 2020 10:30 (one week ago) link

pom is right the 4th bangs and "Lark Ascending" is key small m modernism

how do i shot moon? (Noodle Vague), Friday, 11 September 2020 10:31 (one week ago) link

I adore him...’The Lark Ascending’ is stunning but his 5th Symphony brings me to tears...

X-Prince Protégé (sonnyboy), Friday, 11 September 2020 10:38 (one week ago) link

he's never been fully swallowed by the flag-waving crowd in the way poor undeserving Elgar has been

That's quite interesting. He did study with Bruch and Ravel, and was more cosmopolitan in his outlook than most of his peers. So while he clearly drew on a distinctly English musical unconscious via folk song, I never get the sense, as a (foreign) listener, that he's using it as an imperialistic cudgel to demonstrate the purported superiority of British culture or some such – it's mainly a matter of writing what one (thinks one) knows, especially when there are unsuspected riches still waiting to be plumbed in one's own backyard. The same can incidentally be said for his near-contemporaries Béla Bartók and George Enescu, both of whom viewed the folk music of their respective countries (which have historically overlapped a great deal) as a means of shaking up the primarily Austro-Germanic academic tradition that makes up the core classical repertoire, and therefore as one musical idiom among many (albeit an audibly prominent one). Exit aesthetic zero-sum games whereby to write in one language is necessarily to belittle another national tradition (see: Wagner, Debussy), which makes for a better use of post-Romantic ideology than resentful isolationism.

In terms of his private feelings, however, Vaughan Williams appears to have been a bit of a two-faced figure: quite progressive for his time, certainly more left than right-leaning, but not up to par with what we would expect of a composer committed to those descriptors today:

I did lol @ the line about how an influx of Austrian refugees/immigrants risks dislodging British culture, although to be perfectly fair, non-openly fash European countries had their reasons for thinking Austria was a wee bit problematic (and it still kind of is…).

pomenitul, Friday, 11 September 2020 14:33 (one week ago) link

As for The Lark Ascending's small m modernism, yeah, that's a good way of putting it. I watched a cute little stop-motion animation video by a duo of French YouTubers who specialize in popularizing classical music (aka vulgarisation, heh) and they do a good job of pointing out just how revolutionary that kind of overt simplicity was in 1914, relating it to Satie – which I hadn't thought of, but it makes perfect sense.

pomenitul, Friday, 11 September 2020 14:37 (one week ago) link

it becomes a current in what we could very loosely call postmodernism i guess, by which all i mean is directions explored by 20th century music once serialism fell off

how do i shot moon? (Noodle Vague), Friday, 11 September 2020 16:56 (one week ago) link

I've repped for him elsewhere, but among younger British composers, the most VW-ian of the lot has got to be Edmund Finnis, who achieves a similar sense of quasi mystical stasis rooted in English pastoralism without falling prey to parochialism. His harmonic language also happens to be richer than that of Tavener and other pomo Western 'holy minimalism' imitators. The Air, Turning, his sole widely distributed monograph (for NMC), is an excellent starting point if you're curious.

pomenitul, Friday, 11 September 2020 17:36 (one week ago) link

thank you pom for these thoughtful posts, which i’ll surely return to if i ever decide to explore the work of VW.

budo jeru, Friday, 11 September 2020 21:55 (one week ago) link

My pleasure, budo!

pomenitul, Friday, 11 September 2020 22:15 (one week ago) link

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