Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer, born on 12 October 1872, in Down Ampney, England. Williams belonged to a financially blessed family and went to several music schools, studied with a number of renowned composers and professors and possessed a deep sense of music theory before attempting to compose on a commercial scale. His musical style and interest have often been called ‘solely English’, with the added elements of folklore and hymns serving the purpose of his earliest developments in classical English compositions. Over the course of a 5 decade long career, Williams has featured works in several genres, especially demonstrating a keen interest in symphonic, chamber, choral and opera music.

Some of his earliest contributions to classical music date back to the late 1890s. Around this time, he had met the likes of Hubert Parry and Gustav Holst, who helped gauge and mold a transforming development in William’s perception of music. Between 1895 and 1900, Williams worked on several themes and dimensions of his musical interests, contributing a variety of songs, hymns, choral cantatas and concertos. Some of these stage-setting works included Fantasia (1896), a piano and orchestral composition, and numerous choral pieces such as The Garden of Prosperine (1899) and A Cambridge Mass (1899). A couple of vocal arrangements also managed to see some limelight, with the likes of To Daffodils (1985) and Claribel (1896) catching the ears of classical enthusiasts. In 1905, Williams worked on a classic solo piece for piano, called Pezzo Ostinato, a direction he had never intended to take in the first place. However, his interests always lied in mostly vocal pastures, as it was only until 1920 that he pondered over the prospects of contributing another instrumental work. What was perhaps the most important and recognized arrangement of this time came in the form of the English Hymnal (1906). Although he had primarily been responsible for editing tunes in the English Hymnal, he went a step further and wrote original tracks such as Come Down, O’ Love Divine and God Be With You Till We Meet Again. His skills and success with arranging hymns and choral melodies led him later to contribute to other song books and compilations, such as Songs of Praise (1925) and The Oxford Book of Carols (1928).

In 1909, Ralph Vaughan Williams worked on a song cycle, called On Wenlock Edge. This was a turning point in context of the usual musical style that he had been pursuing thus far. The next year, his orchestral work Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis introduced interesting elements of modal tonalities, antiphonal effects and unrelated triad arrangements. Before the outset of World War I, Williams contributed another important and thematically sound symphonic piece known as Symphony No. 2, or A London Symphony (1914), while continuing composing delicate works with Symphony No. 3, or Pastoral (1922), this time using impressive arrangements of sequential chords as base lines in the entire symphony. Williams also worked on a number of ballets at this time, such as On Christmas Night (1926) and Job: A Masque for Dancing (1930).

During the late 1930s and most of the World War II years, however, he focused more on lyrics in compositions such as Serenade to Music (1938) and Symphony No. 5 in D (1943), highlighting key insights of the Second World War in the latter. Close to his death in 1958, Williams composed two more symphonies and an opera called The Pilgrim’s Progress (1951). The opera specifically featured the crux of his life-long fascination with English Literature.


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