Today, I heard for the first time Ralph Vaughan Williams' First Symphony. This is a choral symphony ; his longest. It was started in 1903 and took him six years to complete it. He was 30 when he began sketching it. This is one of the first symphonies where a choir is used throughout the symphony. It set the stage for choral symphonic music in England in the first half of the twentieth century.It was first titled 'Ocean'. It was first performed at the Leeds Festival in 1910 with Vaughan Williams conducting. Like Brahms, Vaughan Williams delayed a bit before embarking on his first symphony and it was a project on a grand scale. The text of this symphony comes from Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass'.
This symphony has two strong unifying motives declared in the first movement 'Song of the Exposition' or 'Song for All Seas, All Ships' (Andante Maestoso). The first is the harmonic motif of two chords whose roots are a third apart. The brass fanfare opens the symphony with a B Flat Minor chord followed by the choir singing, "Behold, the sea itself!" The full orchestra then comes in and the theme modulates into D Major. The second motif is a melodic figure juxtaposing duplets and triplets (one-two and three-two-three-four) showing that the second beat is divided into eighth notes and the third beat is divided into triplets.
The performance I was hearing today was by the London Symphony and choir directed by Andre Previn. He is good. The 1970 recording still sounds good.