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Thread: Ralph Vaughan-Williams

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    Senior Member Bach's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Ralph Vaughan-Williams

    A composer who truly exalts the beauty of the earth. The magnificence of the city (A London Symphony) to the vast inspiration of ancient landscapes (Symphony No. 3 'Pastoral', Symphony No. 5)

    Anyone who thinks Elgar is the best English composer obviously hasn't heard any Vaughan-Williams - The definition of beauty in music. Elgar sounds like old ladies music in comparison. :P
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    I agree entirely about the magnificence of RVW, though if you really think Elgar sounds like 'old ladies' music' by comparison, then I wonder if you've listened to his wildly beautiful Introduction and Allegro for Strings, the cello concerto, the string quartet, the piano quintet, the violin sonata, Sea Pictures, and my goodness, the most soul-wrenching, tragically inspiring, and most unforgivably neglected piece of music I know - The Spirit of England.

    However, back to RVW, who is indeed the prime mover when it comes to the inspiration of ancient landscapes. I get a bit worried about the bleakness in some of his music though, which sometimes seems to verge on the nihilistic. This doesn't really come through so much in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th symphonies (which you pick out from the others), but these days I tend to find the 4th and the 6th, for instance, a bit too bleak for comfort. However, I've just bought the Boult box set of the symphonies, so that'll give me an incentive to revisit them all again.

    In terms of the evocation of 'ancient landscape', though, the first RVW piece that springs to mind is the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The only piece I could bear to compare with that in terms of sheer English deep-rooted landscapeness is (old ladies permitting, of course) Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings.

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    Re RVW, bleakness and nihilism: I heard Tony Palmer being interviewed on radio recently about his documentary, "O thou transcendent". Here's some background info reprinted on the RVW Society website.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zigzag View Post
    Re RVW, bleakness and nihilism: I heard Tony Palmer being interviewed on radio recently about his documentary, "O thou transcendent".
    I've seen the Tony Palmer documentary. To be honest, I think he over-eggs the pudding a bit. He pushes the pendulum right over to the 'bleak and despairing' side, with so many terrible and horrific war images (not all of them contemporary with VW) as to make his film quite distressing to watch. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between these extremes. Like most of us, RVW had his ups and downs, and I think that's reflected in the music. In other words, he isn't the mystic pastoralist of the 5th symphony, nor the bleak pessimist of the 6th, but both of those, and more.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Vaughan-Williams is probably my favorite 20th century composer. I love the Tallis Fantasia.

    Weirdly I also love the Sinfonia Antartica. That music sounds COLD! There is something about a lone soprano just voicing a wordless theme in the background, theremin style, that I have always found compelling. Many other works less talked about are comforting to me because of their very Englishness for lack of a better word (even though I am an American). The tuba and oboe concertos, In the Fen Country, the English Folk Suite, and the Partita for double string orchestra all fit in this latter category for me. I am not sensing much of the aforementioned bleakness to be honest.

    Now - if only someone could explain to an American how "Ralph" rhymes with "waif."
    Last edited by Weston; Aug-31-2008 at 19:46.

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    Senior Member Bach's Avatar
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    I don't know The Spirit of England but all the other pieces I'm reasonably familiar with. I'm seeing the Sea Pictures at the Proms on the 4th!

    I stand by RVW composing the most beautiful English music whilst Elgar composed some pleasant English music and Tippett composed some clever English music.
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    I am not sensing much of the aforementioned bleakness to be honest.
    I didn't get the bleakness either, until I listened to the 4th and 6th symphonies. Having then picked it up, as it were, I found I started to hear echoes of it in the other works. The 3rd symphony, for instance, no longer seems quite the innocent pastoral that I thought it was was when I first heard it many years ago. In the second movement there's a sort of 'last post' feeling, as if the beauty of the land now can't be contemplated without remembering the war dead. And the soprano's singing in the 3rd symphony, which once I thought was unearthly and mystical (as in the Sinfonia Antarctica, that both you and I enjoy being chilled by), now sounds more like a lament. I suppose what this amounts to is that I think RVW's music is richer, and darker, and even more profound than I thought it was, say 30 years ago.
    Now - if only someone could explain to an American how "Ralph" rhymes with "waif."
    Well, I'm English, and I was hoping someone could explain it to me ...

    @Bach
    I stand by RVW composing the most beautiful English music whilst Elgar composed some pleasant English music
    I'm wholeheartedly in agreement with your admiration of RVW (though I'd say there was more than just beauty to be discovered in his work), but why not let the jury stay out on Elgar, for now? It sounds to me as if something just hasn't clicked in that department, yet. I understand that he only sounds 'pleasant' to you, but honestly, there is enormous depth there to be uncovered. If at some stage (now may not be the time) you want to try The Spirit of England, then may I recommend the Alexander Gibson version with Teresa Cahill as soloist? (For me, Gibson & Cahill seem to express the profound meaning of the work in a way that the other two available versions don't.) It won't break the bank (though I think you won't like the Coronation Ode which comes along as part of the package), which is just as well, since the chances of hearing it performed in concert are surely slim:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Elgar-Choral...0213548&sr=1-1

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    I'm a RVW fan of the highest order.

    In fact I'm on a mission to get the London Symphony Orchestra recording conducted by Richard Hickox the Golden Disc award at this year's Gramophone Awards. It's a worthy winner but it get the recognition it deserves it needs all our votes, as the final decision is made by the public. If you have minute maybe you would follow the link and place your vote!

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bexterlee View Post
    In fact I'm on a mission to get the London Symphony Orchestra recording conducted by Richard Hickox the Golden Disc award at this year's Gramophone Awards. It's a worthy winner but it get the recognition it deserves it needs all our votes, as the final decision is made by the public. If you have minute maybe you would follow the link and place your vote!
    I placed my vote for the Hickox London Symphony, and had no difficulty deciding, since it was the only one of the five available choices that I know!

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    Vaughan Williams is the reason I am a fan of classical music. My favourite pieces are The Lark Ascending, Norfolk Rhapsody No 1 and the Pastoral Symphony.
    "Look here, I have given up my time, my work, my friends and my career to come here and learn from you, and I am not going to write a petit menuet dans le style de Mozart." - Ralph Vaughan Williams to Maurice Ravel

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    What hasn't been mentioned yet (and I'm surprised at myself for not doing so) is his Phantasy Quintet, not only because it's so utterly and unmistakably Vaughan Williams, but because the third movement is surely one of the loveliest, gentlest, most pastoral, and most deliciously melodic 3 minutes' worth of music that I know.

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    Senior Member ChamberNut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    What hasn't been mentioned yet (and I'm surprised at myself for not doing so) is his Phantasy Quintet, not only because it's so utterly and unmistakably Vaughan Williams, but because the third movement is surely one of the loveliest, gentlest, most pastoral, and most deliciously melodic 3 minutes' worth of music that I know.
    Indeed it is Elgarian. I love the string quartets as well, especially SQ # 2.

    I have the Maggini Quartet/Naxos recording.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChamberNut View Post
    I have the Maggini Quartet/Naxos recording.
    Yes, that's the version I have, too - and what an amazing bargain it is. As you say, the quartets are very fine, but they're more rugged, with a harder edge, and so require more concentrated commitment, whereas the phantasy quintet would win the heart of a listener straight away, I think. Well, so it is for me, at any rate.

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    Best English composer?Purcell,anyone?But RVW is indeed among the best.

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    Quote Originally Posted by themusicismymaster View Post
    Best English composer?Purcell,anyone?But RVW is indeed among the best.
    John Dowland gets my vote for best English composer with Vaughan-Williams or Holst running a close second -- and those only because I must consider Handel German.

    Purcell? Well I love his Funeral Music for Queen Mary, but I can't honestly say I could pick his style out if included in a half hour of other baroque composers.

    Elgar I'm going to need help in getting into I'm afraid. I do not know where to begin, as I seem to be unable to focus on the Enigma Variations.

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