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date: 01 October 2022

Vaughan Williams, Ralph free

Vaughan Williams, Ralph free

  • Hugh Ottaway
  • , revised by Alain Frogley

(b Down Ampney, Gloucs., Oct 12, 1872; d London, Aug 26, 1958). English composer, teacher, writer and conductor. The most important English composer of his generation, he was a key figure in the 20th-century revival of British music.

1. Early life and beliefs.

Although born in Gloucestershire, Vaughan Williams considered himself a Londoner. The youngest of three children, he grew up at his mother’s family home, Leith Hill Place, Surrey, and most of his life was spent in the Dorking and Leith Hill area or in London. The move from Down Ampney came as early as 1875, on the death of his father, the Rev. Arthur Vaughan Williams. On both sides of the family there was distinction and independence. The Vaughan Williamses were a family of eminent lawyers: Sir Edward Vaughan Williams, the first Judge of Common Pleas, was the composer’s grandfather. His maternal grandparents were Josiah Wedgwood III and a sister of Charles Darwin.

Encouraged to take an active interest in music, the young boy received his first lessons from a Wedgwood aunt, who not only taught him the piano but took him through The Child’s Introduction to Thorough Bass and Stainer’s Harmony. By the time he went to preparatory school, at Rottingdean, Sussex, he had some acquaintance with the violin as well as with the piano and organ. During three years at Charterhouse (1887–90) he switched from the violin to the viola, played in the school orchestra and, but for family misgivings, would possibly have decided on an orchestral career. There followed a period of two years at the RCM, then three at Trinity College, Cambridge (MusB 1894, BA in history 1895), and a further year or so at the RCM: a substantial period of study, during which his teachers of composition were Parry, Wood and Stanford.

Even as a schoolboy Vaughan Williams had been drawn increasingly to composition, and on going up to Cambridge he knew very well what he wanted to become. But progress was slow; Wood did not believe he would ever make a composer, and a Darwin cousin, Gwen Raverat, writing of her Cambridge childhood, recalled ‘overhearing scraps of conversation about “that foolish young man, Ralph Vaughan Williams”, who would go on working at music when “he was so hopelessly bad at it”’. In later years the composer himself remarked on his ‘amateurish technique’, which he said had dogged him all his life; but his early groping had much to do with a deep dissatisfaction with the English musical scene and an inability to see his own path. He knew that he must strive for the highest professional standards; hence his return to the RCM and his subsequent studying with Bruch in Berlin (1897) and Ravel in Paris (1908). At the same time he recognized that, creatively, salvation would be found, not in imitating foreign models, but in a regenerative use of native resources. This led him to English folksong, to Elizabethan and Jacobean music, and to a philosophy of musical citizenship, which he both practised and preached (see especially his essay ‘Who Wants the English Composer?’ and National Music). These interests and ideals he shared with Holst, whom he met at the RCM in 1895. The close friendship that at once developed is notable because the two composers subjected their work in progress to each other’s criticism. These ‘field-days’, as they called them, lasted until Holst’s death in 1934, and Vaughan Williams missed them keenly in the years that followed.

It is a part of Vaughan Williams’s strength and importance that he cannot be adequately discussed in narrowly musical terms. His outlook was human and social. He never forgot that music was for people; he was interested in every situation, however humble, for which music was needed; and his feeling for genuinely popular traditions amounted to a reverence that was almost religious: the most obvious comparison is with Bartók and Kodály in Hungary. Two points immediately follow: throughout a public life of more than 60 years, Vaughan Williams engaged in a wide range of musical activities, sometimes of a kind that many lesser composers would have considered beneath them; and at every stage in his development the extensive list of works shows different levels of composition, from the simplest occasional pieces to the most visionary personal expressions.

‘Visionary’ is a word much used in discussing Vaughan Williams’s music, and it has often been assumed that the vision is theistic and specifically Christian. The reality is more complex. ‘He was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge’, wrote Ursula Vaughan Williams, ‘though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian’. He was a first-generation atheist with a profound sense of the past, which means a disappointed theist. Moreover, in the popular traditions of the English church, as in folksong, he was aware of the common aspirations of generations of ordinary men and women with whom he felt a deep, contemplative sympathy. And so there is in his work a fundamental tension between traditional concepts of belief and morality and a modern spiritual anguish which is also visionary.

It was not until 1909–10 that a personal voice fully emerged in Vaughan Williams’s music: On Wenlock Edge and the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis are reliable points of reference. By then he had gained experience in a number of directions; he had worked as a church organist – perhaps the only appointment he was glad to give up – had taken the FRCO and MusD, and had launched out as writer, lecturer, music editor and folksong collector. He was editing Welcome Songs for the Purcell Society, but far more important was his selecting of the tunes for The English Hymnal (1906), a task to which he devoted many months, rediscovering old tunes and weeding out Victoriana. Some tunes, including the justly celebrated Sine nomine (‘For all the saints’), he wrote himself; he adapted more than 40 from folksongs. Since collecting his first folksong, Bushes and Briars, in 1903, he had become one of the foremost activists in the movement, notably in Norfolk, Essex and Sussex. In all he collected over 800 songs and variants, the vast majority before 1910. Another important development was the Leith Hill Musical Festival: from its inception in 1905 until 1953 Vaughan Williams was principal conductor, and his performances of Bach, particularly of the St Matthew Passion, became national events. His Bach was noted for its dramatic and spiritual qualities; he had little time for the school of ‘authenticity’.

By 1914 he had behind him a considerable body of work, including two symphonies, and a growing reputation for independence and strength of character. Although nearly 42, he felt bound to involve himself in the war. He served as a wagon orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and on the Salonika front, and later returned to France as an artillery officer. Soon after the armistice he was made director of music for the First Army of the British Expeditionary Force, with responsibility for organizing amateur music-making among the troops. The impact of the war on his imagination was deep and lasting but did not express itself in an obvious protest or change of style; rather it is felt in a more intense inwardness.

2. The years after World War I.

Demobilized in 1919, Vaughan Williams joined the teaching staff of the RCM, became conductor of the Bach Choir (1920–28), for a short time conducted the Handel Society, and did much to revive and expand the Leith Hill Festival. The English Folk Dance Society and other bodies made demands on his time, which he gave freely, still managing to revise pre-war compositions – A London Symphony, The Lark Ascending, Hugh the Drover – and to write new ones. This capacity for reconciling all manner of musical activity – practical, educational, administrative, advisory – with his own creative work lasted into old age. So did his capacity for friendship, which became particularly marked in the 1920s as he found himself thrust into prominence in many branches of musical life. One new friend was the young conductor Adrian Boult, who in 1922 gave the first performance of the Pastoral Symphony and soon emerged as Vaughan Williams’s foremost interpreter. That same year the composer was invited to Connecticut to conduct the American première, and it was also played (under Boult again) at one of the ISCM festivals: works by Vaughan Williams were given at Salzburg (1924), Venice (1925), Prague (1925), Geneva (1929) and London (1931).

As a teacher of composition, Vaughan Williams shared Parry’s gift for encouraging his pupils to be themselves. He expected them to do as he did – seek the best advice but use their own judgment. Where there was strength of character as well as some talent he succeeded, and often a lasting relationship resulted, as with Gordon Jacob and Elizabeth Maconchy. He also taught and conducted at summer schools of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, of which he was elected president in 1932. In the same year he lectured on national music at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania. From the 1920s onwards, he was increasingly in demand as composer–conductor, a role in which he often distinguished himself, particularly in performances of A London Symphony. His 1937 recording of the Fourth Symphony is not only ‘historic’ but an outstanding performance in its own right.

The Fourth Symphony, first performed in 1935, is another notable landmark; although controversial, for many it confirmed Vaughan Williams’s leadership of ‘the English school’ and his lasting capacity for self-renewal. In the same year, having previously refused a knighthood and other honours, he accepted the OM. Many years later he wrote to Rutland Boughton: ‘I have always refused all honours and appointments which involved obligation to anyone in authority – the OM involved no such obligation’. Purely musical honours, which had effectively begun in 1919 with an honorary DMus at Oxford, included a number of other doctorates from British universities, the Cobbett Medal (1930), the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society (1930), the Collard Life Fellowship (1934, in succession to Elgar), the Shakespeare Prize (University of Hamburg, 1937), the Howland Memorial Prize (Yale University, 1954) and the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts (1955).

The Hamburg award troubled him, and before accepting he stated bluntly that he belonged to ‘more than one English society whose object is to combat all that the present German régime stands for’. Although his politics have rarely been discussed, they were inseparable from his overall outlook. He voted Radical or Labour throughout his life, except in 1945, when he felt that the Labour Party was wrong to force an election. His socialism stemmed from a deep-rooted compassion for the underprivileged as real human beings rather than social abstractions (although he had enough taste for political theory as a young man to work through the Fabian tracts). As for the international scene, despite his conviction that nations should proudly maintain their cultural identities, he believed federalism to be the best hope for solving the destructive dilemmas of Europe and beyond. In many ways he followed the tradition of the 19th-century free-thinking radical who devoted his energies to particular causes.

For Vaughan Williams the plight of the German refugees was just such a cause, and his activity on their behalf led in 1939 to his music being banned by the Nazis. During the war years he directed the work of the Home Office Committee for the Release of Interned Alien Musicians, helped to organize the lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery and did much for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (now the Arts Council of Great Britain) and other bodies engaged in promoting music. A new interest, beginning with 49th Parallel (1940–41), was music for films, which was almost the only medium that he had not explored, and he found it stimulating. But his principal wartime composition was the Fifth Symphony, ‘music imbued with what one can only call greatness of soul’ (Mellers, B1946); first played in 1943, this met with a response of deep gratitude, even from many who had not known that Vaughan Williams mattered to them.

In the postwar years he learnt to his dismay that he had become an almost patriarchal figure and that critics were attributing prophetic intentions (and concrete meanings) to the symphonies nos.4–6. A reaction to the latter, almost certainly, was his writing of semi-facetious programme notes, particularly for the first performances of the Sixth and Ninth symphonies. He denied that the Sixth was a ‘war symphony’; but this disturbing work, first played in 1948, accorded so well with the postwar disillusionment that within a little over two years it had received 100 performances – a record exceeded by only one English symphony, Elgar’s First. Once again, though not with intent, he had done the unpredictable and challenged comfortable opinion.

The 1950s brought important changes in Vaughan Williams’s personal life, his music and the critical climate. In 1951 his wife Adeline (née Fisher), whom he had married in 1897, died at the age of 80, having been an invalid for many years; and in the same year he suffered ‘the bitterest disappointment of his musical life’ (Douglas, E1972), the inept production at Covent Garden of the morality The Pilgrim’s Progress, on which he had been working, intermittently, for up to 40 years: Bunyan, like Blake and Whitman, had long been embedded in his personal mythology. In 1953 he married Ursula Wood, a close family friend, and left Dorking, where he had been living since 1929, for central London. Apart from deafness, he was in good health; London’s cultural life was paradise regained, and he travelled abroad more than he had done for decades. In 1954 he visited the USA again, lecturing at Cornell and other universities, conducting A London Symphony and touring extensively. Everywhere he went he received an enthusiastic welcome; overwhelmed by invitations, he turned down a dinner in his honour to have been given by the League of Composers and the offer of a coast-to-coast television interview. Throughout these last few years he was not only a familiar presence at London concerts, the Cheltenham Festival and the Three Choirs Festival, but was active in public controversy – for example, over the threat to the BBC Third Programme (1958) – and wrote a great deal of music, including the last two symphonies.

When he died many English music-lovers felt a sense of loss that was personal no less than musical. This ‘extraordinary, ordinary man’ (Kennedy, C1964) had not only become an institution; he had also, as Parry said of Elgar, reached the hearts of the people. On 19 September 1958, before a crowded assembly, his ashes were interred in the north choir aisle of Westminster Abbey, near the burial places of Purcell and Stanford; the first music that was played was his Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’, on a tune that he had known and loved since 1893.

3. Early works.

Although the variety within Vaughan Williams’s extensive output would seem to favour discussion according to genre, the development through 60 years presents an overriding case for division into periods. The five periods chosen here are neither arbitrary nor absolute: up to 1908, 1908–14, 1919–34, 1935–44 and 1945–58. Each has its distinguishing character, or characters; equally striking, however, at least from the second period onwards, is the recurrence of earlier modes of expression. Few major composers have kept open so many avenues for so long, which is a reflection of that unusual blend of outward- and inward-looking qualities which characterized the man. Because he was an intuitive artist, little disposed to theorize, except about the human and social aspects of music, he was never inhibited by fears of inconsistency, stylistic or otherwise. Some unlikely works appear side by side, particularly in the third period: for instance, Job and The Poisoned Kiss, the Fourth Symphony and the Suite for viola and small orchestra. If there was a streak of clumsiness in his make-up, he was also ‘a perfectionist, though he might not have thought of himself as such’ (Douglas, E1972). This shows clearly in his revisions of some of the works that meant most to him. As late as 1950 he made some changes in the scoring of the Pastoral Symphony (first performed 1922), and the much revised Hugh the Drover (1910–14) did not take its final form until 1956.

The first period, that of Vaughan Williams’s long ‘apprenticeship’, culminated in A Sea Symphony (1903–9), which stands at the brink of the first period of maturity. The balance throughout is tilted towards vocal music, but with the orchestra prominent and becoming increasingly important in the last five or six years. Although there are songs and partsongs dating from the 1890s, the earliest composition that is widely known is Linden Lea (1901). This setting for voice and piano of words by the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes is not without significance: sub-titled ‘a Dorset folksong’ (which it is not), it has an open-air freshness and an attachment to simple things, but is also related to the domestic (drawing-room) song forms of the time. This vein is extended and broadened in the Songs of Travel (Stevenson, 1901–4), which have likewise retained their early popularity. These have a moving eloquence and afford many insights into the composer’s temperament, particularly ‘The Infinite Shining Heavens’ and ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’; but there is also a received Romanticism of a kind that disappeared under the impact of folksong and of Elizabethan music. This is also marked in the rather less sharply focussed Rossetti cycle The House of Life (1903), from which ‘Silent Noon’ has remained popular. However remote they may seem from the composer of 20 years later, these early songs are among the finest written in England around 1900 and are as notable for strength of purpose as for sensitive word-setting. Their achievement is underlined by the fact that at no other stage did Vaughan Williams give much attention to the solo song with piano accompaniment.

Choral music, with and without orchestra, is prominent throughout his development. Toward the Unknown Region (Whitman, 1904/5–6), ‘a song for chorus and orchestra’, was the first work to make a major impact on critics and public alike. Despite the choral debt to Parry and some residual chromaticism, there is much that is individual, particularly in the harmonic language and the scoring. Noteworthy too is the first four-note phrase (ex.1), a melodic fingerprint that persisted into old age. The crucial years for A Sea Symphony (Whitman) were 1906–8. Beginning as ‘songs of the sea’ in emulation of Stanford, this became a fully choral symphony, a triumph of instinct over environment. The tone is optimistic, Whitman’s emphasis on the unity of being and the brotherhood of man comes through strongly, and the vitality of the best things in it has proved enduring. Whatever the indebtedness to Parry and Stanford, and in the finale to Elgar, there is no mistaking the physical exhilaration or the visionary rapture. Melodic invention mingling duplets and triplets, harmonic images such asex.2, the quasi-epilogue with its alternating chords and niente close, these are among the features that are fundamental Vaughan Williams.

The unpublished works include two or three for orchestra showing an earlier and more significant interest in the medium than has sometimes been suggested, notably the Bucolic Suite (1900), the Heroic Elegy and Triumphant Epilogue (1900–1) and Harnham Down (1904–7). The composer thought well enough of In the Fen Country (1904) to revise the scoring in 1935; it registers the first impact of his folksong collecting and contains elements of his mature pastoral style, albeit alongside an alien chromaticism. The first works to quote folksong directly are the three Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905–6), of which the second and third were withdrawn: no.1 has a distinctive tone poetry, atmospheric and pure in expression, and points clearly to the next period. Two folksongs appear briefly in the scherzo of A Sea Symphony, but these are incidental in a work whose style has a different ancestry. Whitman’s liberating thought and the music of English villagers had still to make common cause.

In general, Vaughan Williams did not use folksongs in orchestral and instrumental works, but he so absorbed the folksong idiom that his melodic writing was profoundly conditioned and freed from inconsistencies. Certain tunes, notably Searching for Lambs and Dives and Lazarus, are often felt to be almost within earshot, so much a part of him did their turns of phrase become. From the period 1905–35 there are many folksong arrangements, for voice and piano and for unaccompanied chorus, and as late as 1949 he wrote Folksongs of the Four Seasons for women’s voices and orchestra. The harmonization is always idiomatic: even in his later student years he was drawn to the modes; indeed, he once presented Stanford with a modal waltz.

4. Towards ‘A London Symphony’, 1908–14.

This period extends from the String Quartet in G minor and On Wenlock Edge – the immediate beneficiaries of Vaughan Williams’s study with Ravel – to Hugh the Drover, A London Symphony and The Lark Ascending, all substantially complete in 1914. The common ground is the assimilation of folksong, the confident use of a distinctive body of imagery, at once national and personal, and the achievement of a unified style. In most works, but not the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, there are traces of former ways, usually involving a chromatic expressiveness: only in the G minor Quartet (1908–9) and the Five Mystical Songs (Herbert, 1911) are these a serious handicap. At least five works from this period are among those that have proved most durable, and their popularity is not unconnected with their emotional background, which is stable and secure, however anguished the foreground. This ‘security’, though in part a reflection of the composer’s growing self-confidence, has much to do with the pre-war climate of Liberal optimism and the sense of community inherent in it. The most anguished foreground is in the finale of A London Symphony, but at the close, after a climax of harrowing intensity, the vision is ‘contained’ by a warm G major chord throughout the orchestra. Similarly, the romance for violin and orchestra The Lark Ascending is wholly idyllic, and therefore different in feeling from the postwar pastoral works. The boisterous good humour of the suite from The Wasps (incidental music to Aristophanes’ comedy, 1909) is a more extroverted reflection of the same stable background. All these works are rich in expressions basic to Vaughan Williams’s maturity. Less well known, yet an especially beautiful product of this period, are the Four Hymns, for tenor, strings and viola obbligato (1914); significantly, these contain seeds of what lay just ahead, in terms of their particular musical realization of spiritual imagery.

The achievement that most clearly transcends this period, however, is the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for double string orchestra (1910, rev. 1919). This is perhaps the first unqualified masterpiece; it is also the work that has travelled most widely. He was drawn to Tallis’s Phrygian tune when researching for The English Hymnal (see no.92) and found in it a grandeur and an intimacy which crystallized something essential to his own musical style: this way of writing for strings, though many times modified, may be traced as far as the Ninth Symphony.

Although less concentrated, and less pure in expression, the Housman song cycle On Wenlock Edge for tenor, piano and string quartet (1908–9) is more broadly representative of the works of this period. It is also an outstanding contribution to English song, more ambitious than the great majority of Housman settings and sounding greater depths. (A comparison of ‘Bredon Hill’ and ‘Is my team ploughing?’ with the slightly later settings by Butterworth can only emphasize Vaughan Williams’s dramatic sense and the scale of his intentions.) Essentially a cycle, framed by songs that give a cosmic dimension to human suffering, On Wenlock Edge has plenty of vital ideas and marks the first clear emergence of the ‘disappointed theist’. In the opening song, which gives its title to the whole, there is a new chromaticism, anguished and free from Rossetti-like associations (cf the finale of A London Symphony) and in ‘From far, from eve and morning’ and ‘Clun’ consecutive triads form awesome, yet disarmingly simple, images of eternity. The vocal part, too, is generally simple (also demanding), but is less close to folksong than some have suggested. Early in the 1920s the composer made a version for tenor and orchestra, but it is the original that has achieved classic status.

In their separate ways the most ambitious works from this period are A London Symphony (1911–13, with substantial postwar revisions) and Hugh the Drover (1910–14, also much revised). The former, Vaughan Williams’s first purely orchestral symphony, stands in much the same relation to the Germanic mainstream as do the later symphonies of Dvořák: the form is broadly traditional, the expression personal and national. A striking innovation is the matching introduction and epilogue. Also used by Bax, the epilogue is Vaughan Williams’s most personal contribution to symphonic form (cf all his symphonies except the Pastoral, where the finale has its own introduction and epilogue, and nos.8 and 9). Although the London was originally to have been a symphonic poem and has been described as ‘a misplaced opera’ – more concretely the composer acknowledged a background link with H.G. Wells’s Tono Bungay – Vaughan Williams rightly insisted that it was ‘self-expressive, and must stand or fall as “absolute” music’; the use made of the Westminster chimes and other London sounds does not amount to a programme.

Hugh the Drover, or Love in the Stocks, was ambitious in attempting, almost unconcernedly, to break through the barrier of English taste that stood in the way of native opera, and in this it had some success, becoming the best-known example between the revival of Dido and Aeneas in 1895 and Peter Grimes (1945). Some, including Czechs, have seen it as an English equivalent of The Bartered Bride, but the libretto is artificial, presenting a picture-postcard view of Cotswold village life in the 19th century, and the music ranges in style from the Songs of Travel to A London Symphony. Although stagy, it is also stageworthy, and in a good performance holds the attention with its picturesque action, which includes a boxing-match, and its sense of musical enjoyment. Approximately ten traditional tunes are incorporated: the term ‘ballad opera’, used by the composer though strictly misapplied, is appropriate in spirit. For Hugh the Drover is above all an entertainment.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (portrait by Allan Chappelow, MA, FRSA)

Allan Chappelow, M.A., F.R.S.A. London

5. The inter-war works, 1919–34.

Bounded by the next symphonies, the Pastoral and the F minor, this was a period of immense vigour and variety in which three trends are particularly striking: a deepening of the visionary aspect; an extending of the expressive range, embracing new forms of imagery; and a simultaneous working on markedly different levels. This last puzzled some of Vaughan Williams’s admirers, especially those who had set their own limits to the kind of composer he was. Folksong arrangements, occasional and ‘serviceable’ church music, competition partsongs and simple, popular expressions such as the unison song Let us now praise famous men, these are found side by side with some of his most penetrating masterpieces. There are important achievements in almost every field except chamber music.

Ideas for the Pastoral Symphony had begun to form as early as 1916, when Vaughan Williams was in France with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and of this the ‘bugle call’ for a natural trumpet in the slow movement is direct evidence. More thought-provoking pointers are the tensions experienced beneath the seemingly tranquil surface of the music and the sudden impassioned upsurges which challenge the prevailing quietude. For all its indifference to the things commonly held to make a symphony ‘go’, notably contrasts in tempo, dynamics and basic material, the Pastoral is a dramatic work; it is also the expression of a man thrown back on his innermost resources, making discoveries and ‘licking his cultural wounds’.

Kennedy (c1964) said Vaughan Williams ‘did not seek solace in religion after the war’, which, at the conscious level, is probably true. Nonetheless, there is a succession of works, culminating in Sancta civitas, that suggests a deep concern with reaching out towards a religious, though not necessarily Christian, view of reality. The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (1921), a one-act ‘pastoral episode’ based on Bunyan and later incorporated in The Pilgrim’s Progress, renews the blessedness glimpsed at the end of the Pastoral Symphony; and in the unaccompanied Mass in G minor (1920–21), written in response to the revival of Byrd and the English polyphonic school at Westminster Cathedral, there are similarly musical links with the Pastoral, notably in the Sanctus. The Mass broke new ground, setting a standard for the re-creation of the a cappella tradition. Sancta civitas (1923–5), a biblical oratorio to words mainly from Revelation, is prefaced by a quotation from Plato concerning the immortality of the soul. This is the most visionary of these works; its expression is plainer, more severe, in a way that anticipates aspects of Job, and a less ‘churchy’ oratorio would be hard to imagine. Although the deepest of Vaughan Williams’s choral works, it has not achieved the prominence of Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, with which it has a close spiritual affinity.

An exploratory impulse is particularly marked in a group of major works conceived during 1924–6, an unusually fertile time that was critical for the course of this larger period. A number of these employ a solo instrument. The Concerto for violin and strings (1924–5), originally called Concerto accademico, is Vaughan Williams’s nearest approach to a Bachian ‘neo-classicism’ and was probably written in response to Holst’s Fugal Concerto. The Piano Concerto (1926–31), in which the toccata-like manner of the first movement invites comparison with Bartók (who heard and admired the work), is an interesting transition to the Fourth Symphony, but it was conceived piecemeal and cannot be considered wholly successful. There is also a version by Joseph Cooper for two pianos and orchestra (1946), which overcomes some problems of balance – but not, of course, those of unity. The outstanding work in this group is Flos campi (1925), a suite for solo viola, small chorus (wordless) and small orchestra, each movement of which is headed by a Latin quotation from the Song of Songs. Rapt, intense, yet ultimately serene, this is among Vaughan Williams’s most imaginative achievements. The often quoted bitonal opening is a natural development from the Pastoral Symphony and Sancta civitas, and the diatonic polyphony of the final number points to the close of the Fifth Symphony. There is also much that reaches out through Riders to the Sea to the Sixth Symphony and beyond. The Suite for viola and small orchestra (1934), written, like Flos campi, for Tertis, is a comparatively low-pressure work in eight short movements, some of which are excellent examples of the composer’s treatment of folksong-like material. Perhaps the finest actual folksong work from this period is the Six Studies in English Folksong (1926) for cello and piano.

The three operas written between 1924, when Hugh the Drover was first performed, and 1932 are remarkable evidence of Vaughan Williams’s working on different levels. The first, Sir John in Love (1924–8), is a natural successor to Hugh without any of the immaturities. Based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, it is an opera in four acts requiring 20 soloists and elaborate staging; musically, however, it represents a relaxation from the visionary vein, an enjoyment of traditional cakes and ale, although Ford’s jealousy opens up a deeper and darker vein, and there are many passages of ravishing, and at times Italianate, lyricism. The one-act Riders to the Sea (1925–32), an almost complete setting of Synge’s play, is both a theatrical tour de force and a visionary masterpiece; moreover, in its response to the theme of man defeated by nature – a far cry from the Pastoral Symphony – and in the comprehensiveness of its musical imagery, it seems to reach to the brink of the final period: even the characteristic chord relationship from the end of the Sixth Symphony makes its first appearance here (ex.3). Very different from both these operas is The Poisoned Kiss (1927–9), a ‘romantic extravaganza’ with spoken dialogue based on a story by R. Garnett. Here a sense of fun prevails, and a delight in doing something different, without obligations; significantly, this is one of the few compositions not shown to Holst while in progress.

Holst’s influence outlived his death in 1934 (in, for instance, the Sixth Symphony) but is most marked in this period. Particular evidence may be found in the Violin Concerto, the Magnificat for contralto solo, women’s choir, solo flute and orchestra, the ballet Job and the Fourth Symphony. This in no way limits the individuality of these works, of which the last two would have to be included in any reckoning of Vaughan Williams’s most important creations. Job, ‘a masque for dancing’ (1927–30), brings together a number of the basic types of imagery from the preceding years and in the music for Satan introduces new ones: so potent are the ingredients, and so high the imaginative level, that the symphonies nos.4–6, utterly different from each other though they are, are all indebted to this seminal score. The scenario by Keynes and Raverat based on Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job failed to interest Diaghilev, for whom it was intended, and Vaughan Williams completed his score as a concert work in nine scenes, in which form it was first given. The ballet was mounted by the Camargo Society in 1931 and has entered the repertory of the British Royal Ballet.

The Fourth Symphony, in F minor (1931–4), renews the angular, Satanic element in Job, turns away from modal ‘blessedness’ and achieves a structural power that is intellectually and emotionally challenging in a way quite new to Vaughan Williams’s music. Two basic motifs (ex.4) unite the four movements and dominate the musical imagery. Their extreme terseness, their discordant harmonic implications and the tension arising from their immediate juxtaposition go far to account for the essential violence of this work. Together with Riders to the Sea, the Fourth may be held to represent a response to experience so different from that of the Pastoral and its ‘religious’ satellites as to constitute an opposite pole.

6. The World War II period, 1935–44.

The many who, unlike the composer, interpreted the Fourth Symphony as ‘ancestral voices prophesying war’ thought they saw corroborative evidence in Dona nobis pacem (1936), a cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra using texts from various sources, with Whitman well to the fore. There is some related imagery – not least the falling semitone on ‘dona’ – but this work ranges widely in point of style, successfully incorporating a setting of Whitman’s ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’ made before World War I, and ending with an affirmation of hope in a serviceable, popular manner found in works from all periods. Although less than a masterpiece, Dona nobis pacem deserves a permanent place among the musical works written against war, and the idea of combining Latin liturgical material with biblical texts and modern vernacular poetry surely influenced Britten’s more famous War Requiem. Five Tudor Portraits (1935), a Skelton suite for soloists, chorus and orchestra, is by the composer of Sir John in Love and the Suite for viola and small orchestra; it is music of relaxed enjoyment, with many characteristic niceties of expression.

Neither of these works is particularly representative of this fourth period, but in their broader lyricism and warmth of manner they may be said to point the way. Disappointed expectations based on the ‘modernity’ of the Fourth Symphony gave rise to the view that, after Holst’s death, Vaughan Williams reverted to a more traditional style. The cause remains speculative, but it is true that for a number of years he concentrated on a more benign, euphonious manner which was regarded by many as definitive. Reversion is too crude a description: a drawing-out and interweaving of threads going back through Job to the Tallis Fantasia would be more accurate. A sense of spiritual security is conveyed by a modal–diatonic norm of expression, offset but seldom undermined by contrary elements. The sentiments made explicit in the Serenade to Music (1938), a setting for 16 soloists and orchestra of words from The Merchant of Venice, are basic to this period. Written for Wood’s golden jubilee as a conductor, the Serenade is best in its original version but may be given by only four soloists, with chorus, or with all the vocal parts treated chorally. There is also an orchestral version. In a similar vein is The Bridal Day (1938–9, rev. 1952–3), a masque with a text by Ursula Wood (later the composer’s wife) after Spenser’s Epithalamion. Originally intended for the English Folk Dance and Song Society, this was not performed until 1953, when it was presented by BBC television (in 1957 Vaughan Williams based a cantata, Epithalamion, on it).

The commanding landmark in this period is the Fifth Symphony (1938–43, rev. 1951), written after some sustained work on The Pilgrim’s Progress but apparently in the belief that the morality (opera) would not be completed. Three principal themes and some subsidiary material are therefore ‘borrowed’ but are treated independently with few, if any, programmatic overtones. Making its affirmations in spite of the Fourth, with which it has in common only its mastery of means, the Fifth marks the climax of Vaughan Williams’s traditional (religious) responses.

Like the Pastoral Symphony, the Fifth has a number of ‘satellites’ or associated works. These include the Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ (1939) for strings and harp(s), which is perhaps the most personal of all the folksong compositions, the String Quartet in A minor (1942–4) and the Concerto for oboe and strings (1944). Written for Goossens, the Concerto is at once capricious, lyrical and nostalgic, and is the composer’s most successful essay in the form. The A minor Quartet ends in D in the spirit of the Fifth Symphony, but the other movements, which are either agitated or joyless, make the dominant impression in this fine work. Here, and in some of the music for the war film The Story of a Flemish Farm (1943), are the first definite intimations of the ferment that was to produce the Sixth Symphony. Not that anyone could have foreseen the Sixth, still less the richness of the period that followed.

7. The final period.

After its many early performances Hubert Foss remarked on ‘the flood of explanatory prose which the [Sixth] Symphony has unloosed’. Few other works in the post-Romantic era had so compelled their admirers to ask what the music meant; for the Sixth, in E minor (1944–7, rev. 1950), was experienced by many as a spiritual negation of the Fifth, which it was felt to supplant as a definitive statement. The composer denied that he had written a ‘war symphony’, but later cited Prospero’s words ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’ as a verbal indication of ‘the substance of my last movement’ (Kennedy, c1964). This movement, Epilogue, presents the ethos of the work in its most acute form and with the emphasis of an unrelieved pianissimo (senza crescendo). Essentially it is a meditation on a single theme, which ‘drifts about contrapuntally’ and finally disintegrates, leaving only the chords of E♭ major and E minor alternating in a void. An equivalent chord relationship, though less decisively used, has been noted in Riders to the Sea (ex.3), which of the earlier works is the one that has most in common with the imagery of the Sixth. Both these works bear directly on the score for the film Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

It was a stroke of artistic good fortune that Vaughan Williams was asked for that particular score precisely at this juncture. The spiritual desolation of the Sixth found its physical counterpart in the polar wastes, and the sense of challenge and endurance was re-engaged by the story of Scott’s last expedition. Moreover, whatever Vaughan Williams’s reservations about the vainglorious aspects of Scott’s enterprise, the human values represented – heroic endeavour, loyalty, dedication, personal warmth – were a timely corrective to the ‘ultimate nihilism’ (Cooke, D(iii)1959) of the symphony. He soon knew that what he was writing was no ordinary film score and that an Antarctic symphony might well come of it. In fact, he was achieving a reconciliation that would open the way for not one but three more symphonies and would affect almost everything he wrote in the very active ten years remaining to him. This is partly a matter of colour – he was fascinated by his new Antarctic sounds ‘the ’phones and ’spiels’ (tuned percussion) particularly – but basically it concerns the fusion and transformation of hitherto opposed worlds of feeling: the ‘blessedness’ of the Fifth and the nihilistic vision of the Sixth were resolved in a tragic but resilient humanism. Thus the last three symphonies share the same stylistic and philosophical orientation and have a wider range of imagery than any of the others since A London Symphony.

Autograph MS from the first movement of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no.5 in D, composed 1938–43, with the revisions of 1951 (GB-Lbl Add.50372, ff.2v, 3 and 4); the violin and viola notes, most of the clefs, and the crossed out portions are not in Vaughan Williams’s hand.

By kind permission by Mrs Ralph Vaughan Williams, British Library, London

The Sinfonia antartica (no.7) was begun in 1949 but proved troublesome and other works supervened. The same year saw the completion of The Pilgrim’s Progress, which really belongs to the two preceding periods. Both the dramatic conception – effectively, a series of tableaux – and the musical realization have been adversely criticized, but a minority holds that this morality in four acts is one of Vaughan Williams’s supreme achievements: a distinguished Cambridge production by Dennis Arundell in 1954 is cited as supporting evidence and the 1992 revival by the Royal Northern College of Music was also enthusiastically received. The most penetrating critical point is both musical and dramatic: that The Pilgrim’s Progress is ‘an aftermath’ (Richard Capell, in the Daily Telegraph of 28 April 1951), the composer’s Bunyanesque vision having already found its most intense expression in the middle symphonies. But it remains a deeply individual work and will always have its advocates. No less individual are two smaller-scale works from 1949. One of these, An Oxford Elegy for speaker, small chorus and small orchestra, uses another text long thought of by Vaughan Williams as a possible basis for an opera libretto – Arnold’s The Scholar Gipsy, parts of which are combined here with some lines from Thyrsis. This is an unusually successful melodrama and, although broadly pastoral in manner, belongs unequivocally to the final period: like the Cavatina in the Eighth Symphony and many pages from the Ninth, it makes a unique contribution to the music of old age. The other work is in an equally problematical genre, that initiated by Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia: the Fantasia on the Old 104th for solo piano, chorus and orchestra, which is a paean of praise in the composer’s ‘serviceable’ manner but also contains his most distinguished piano writing. Since the piano was in general unsympathetic to him, its use here might almost be included among the instances of unlikely instruments featured in this period. There is a Romance in D♭ for harmonica, strings and piano (1951) – a markedly post-Scott piece written for Larry Adler – and a Concerto in F minor for bass tuba and orchestra (1954), notable for its warmly lyrical slow movement. This instrumental interest was by no means limited to soloistic possibilities; the Eighth Symphony has an important part for vibraphone, and the Ninth has a flugelhorn and three saxophones.

The Sinfonia antartica was completed in 1952. It is arguably neither sufficiently symphonic nor sufficiently programmatic, and for that reason the least successful of the mature symphonies, but is capable of making a deep impression. The opening theme, which is a kind of ‘motto’, reveals a synthesis of the harmonic feeling of the Sixth Symphony and the melodic aspiration of the Fifth and is thus a microcosm of the most characteristic music of the last years. In the Eighth (1953–6) and Ninth (1956–8) the post-Scott orientation achieves unambiguous symphonic form. The Eighth, in D minor, has a comparative lightness of heart and a capacity for humour, but these qualities are shot through with sadness and anxiety, even in the rumbustious finale; melodic allusions to Holst and Bach suggest that a thread of remembrance for the fallen of World War I, and for absent friends in general, runs through the work (see Neighbour in Frogley, c1996). The Ninth, in E minor, is a more sombre work, at once heroic and contemplative, defiant and wistfully absorbed.

Of the other late works, the following are of special interest: the Three Shakespeare Songs (1951) for unaccompanied chorus, of which the second, ‘The Cloud-capp’d Towers’, is a memorable setting of the words associated with the Epilogue of the Sixth Symphony; Hodie (1953–4), a Christmas cantata (various texts) for soloists, chorus, boys’ voices and orchestra, which looks back over many years but could only have been written in the 1950s; the Sonata in A minor (1954) for violin and piano, which incorporates a theme from the early Piano Quintet in C minor (1903); and, supremely, the Ten Blake Songs (1957) for voice and oboe, a masterpiece of economy and precision written for the film The Vision of William Blake. In his last years Vaughan Williams showed more interest in the solo song than at any time since the first decade of the century; he had planned two song cycles for voice and piano, to poems by his wife, and of these the completed items were published posthumously as Four Last Songs. At the time of his death the composer was in the advanced stages of work on a cello concerto and on a new opera, Thomas the Rhymer.

All assessments of Vaughan Williams have emphasized his Englishness. This is a matter of temperament and character no less than of musical style and may be felt to have permeated everything he did. In the long run, however, more attention will be given to the specific content of his music: that is, to individuality rather than nationality. That he re-created an English musical vernacular, thereby enabling the next generation to take their nationality for granted, and did much to establish the symphony as a form of significance for the English revival is historically important; but his illumination of the human condition, especially though not exclusively in those works commonly regarded as visionary, is a unique contribution.

8. Musical language.

Vaughan Williams's path to musical maturity was long and hard – not least because he rejected comfortable solutions – but by the eve of World War I he had developed one of the most distinctive musical personalities of the century. This is characterized as much by the nature of its integration and by the relationship of certain idioms to broader expressive trajectories as by any mannerisms of harmony or rhythm. In the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, for example, the simple juxtaposition of triads with roots a third apart and involving false relations (ex.5), superficially a Vaughan Williams ‘fingerprint’, is initially charged with distinctive, slow-burning energy by the sense of wondering awe created by scoring, spacing and harmonic rhythm. This suggests hidden depths which must be revealed; but contemplatively and obliquely rather than through direct dialectic. The process of revelation, impelled by sleights of modal mixture that echo the emblematic harmonies, builds to a luminous climax in which false relations are painfully intensified (ex.6): once impersonally remote and with each chord allowed time to resonate, they are now fused into an impassioned homorhythmic declamation that fleetingly transcends dualism.

This kind of ecstatic revelation and the particular way in which it is approached became the model for some of Vaughan Williams's finest creations, including the last movement of the Pastoral Symphony and the first and last movements of the Ninth Symphony. The aura of mystery surrounding common chords in these works is by no means arbitrary: in an age of chromatic saturation, emergent atonality and Debussyan added-note chords, pure triadic harmony could become a thing of wonder (and the climax of the Fantasia, as intense as any of Wagner's or Tchaikovsky's, does not use a single appoggiatura). Rather than expunging non-diatonic elements, Vaughan Williams reintegrated them through modally enriched diatonic means, creating a musical tension not compromised by chromatic saturation.

Such concerns underline Vaughan Williams's commitment to reinvent rather than reject the achievements of his 19th-century predecessors. This continuity with the past has frequently been obscured in the critical literature, which has tended to exaggerate the profound but by no means exclusive influence of pre-18th-century music and folksong on his style; the concept of the passionate and transcendent climax, and the confrontational dynamism of the Beethovenian symphonic tradition, however, were also important to Vaughan Williams. Even if he resisted Austro-German developmental and variation processes for their potentially mechanical or routine effect, he nevertheless embraced the sense of spiritual quest and probing exploration of contrasts that underpinned 19th-century large-scale genres (as can be gleaned from the centrality of symphony, concerto and opera to his oeuvre). For all his love of early music, as a searching agnostic with a social conscience he was in larger works drawn more to the conflict-ridden example of Beethoven than to the serene symmetries of Bach. It was surely this influence which eventually impelled him to engage with aspects of musical modernism.

The unusually intimate relationship between expression and technique in Vaughan Williams's music created the central challenge to his development, a challenge intensified by his nationality and by the cultural shockwaves of World War I: how to forge a set of materials and techniques capable of sustaining structures which both emulated the extended heroic narratives of the Austro-German repertoire, yet broke decisively with its idioms and now hollow triumphalist ethos. The task was complicated by other elements in his make-up. Wishing to work with large canvasses, his reverence for the stanzaic ‘tune’ (a clear reflection of his humanistic belief in direct musical expression accessible to a wide audience) presented him with the dilemma of reconciling rounded lyrical statements with the demands of evolving large-scale structures. This challenge was compounded by his general inclination towards material of a contemplative, rather than active, character.

One strategy was to make clearly defined melody the culmination of a work, rather than its point of departure, a procedure adopted in the Pastoral Symphony, Flos campi and Riders to the Sea. But the success of this depended on broader techniques for creating melody-based form. These, which stand at the heart of Vaughan Williams's mature music, generate complex structures from elements that are in themselves extremely simple and easy to assimilate, and do so with apparent spontaneity and minimal recourse to traditional patterning or elaboration (such as diminution, sequence and other direct parallelism). Influenced by contemporary Russian and French music as well as native sources, Vaughan Williams developed a unique musical language based on three closely interdependent elements: the interaction – sometimes confrontation – of common-practice tonality with modality and pentatonicism; a plain and yet pliant rhythmic idiom; and a melodic discourse based on seamless extension rather than fragmentary development (see in particular Payne, c1953, and Neighbour, c1958).

Although these elements, at one level, constituted a sharp break with 19th-century models, Vaughan Williams found in them fresh ways of creating the goal-directed momentum that had sustained Classical and Romantic structures. Pentatonic and modal collections, particularly the Dorian and Mixolydian, not only offered a ‘pure’ alternative to post-Wagnerian chromaticism, but could also generate a rival field of ambiguities and tensions. In the wordless soprano solo of the Pastoral Symphony finale (see ex.7), shifting inflections within a single seven-note diatonic collection suggest several different pitches as potential key centres, an uncertainty that seems to urge the music forward in search of clarification. To reinforce the tonal ambiguity of the melodic line, other kinds of restlessness are also imparted to it: the rhythmic profile, while plain and unassertive on the surface, is rendered unstable by fluctuation between duple and triple groupings of quavers and by a flurry of semiquavers. (Such disruptions are magnified elsewhere in the work as alternations of rhapsodic passages with material in a steady duple metre.) Furthermore, while the melody appears improvisatory, closer examination reveals firm overall control, especially in terms of preparing the climax on a″. Each phrase leading to this extends the range upwards by one pitch in the collection; gradual ascent is then matched asymmetrically by a swift post-climax descent that extends the lower end of the range, a new element which compensates for a return to the opening phrase, now transposed. Each phrase is enmeshed in the next, and literal repetition avoided until the last bar; nevertheless, overall the loose arch-structure is also shadowed by a traditional four-phrase scheme. Paradoxically, then, while it emulates the immediate impact of a self-contained tune, the melody is generated in such a way that it can be extended or compressed without violating its underlying principles of construction, and can evolve into significantly different material. While English folksong, medieval chant and modern Franco-Russian sources have clearly influenced such ‘organic’ melodic structures, so has Brahmsian ‘developing variation’. Interestingly, it is this kind of passage that has led to accusations of ‘aimless rhapsody’ in Vaughan Williams's music; clearly the idea that such music meanders ineffectually without a goal in sight could scarcely be further from the truth.

Typically, Vaughan Williams projects the kinds of instability inherent in ex.7 into the vertical domain of harmony and counterpoint as well. As World War I drew near, he began to explore combinations of independent melodic lines, or of melodies and harmonic backgrounds, featuring conflicting tonal or modal implications. By the early 1920s, he had begun to superimpose layers of tonally divergent material, often comprised of discrete melodic strands thickened into streams of parallel triads. This allowed simple modal figures to generate complex harmonic aggregates. In the opening bars of the Pastoral Symphony (see ex.8), for example, the principal voices suggest a modally inflected major-minor shift at the ‘Poco tranquillo’. The triadic magnification of these lines, however, blurs the harmonic interaction of upper and lower layers (bars 1–8) and introduces bitonal effects (bars 9–12). Working out the implications of these oppositions becomes central to the symphony as a whole.

While tonal superimposition was common currency by the 1920s, Vaughan Williams used it to individual ends that grew naturally from his pre-war concerns. Nevertheless, in the decade following the Pastoral Symphony he explored such oppositions in increasingly stark and dialectical ways, prompting inevitable comparisons with continental modernism. The fortissimo minor-9th crunch that launches the Fourth Symphony presents the fundamental dissonance of tonal music as pure linear conflict, stripped of any harmonic padding (see ex.9); the outer voices grind against each other in a mostly fruitless search for resolution until the end of the symphony. A similar gesture is taken up in the Sixth Symphony, and even the gentler Fifth opens unhesitatingly with a tritone framing its quiet harmonic question.

Harmonic propositions of this kind underline the consistency of expressive purpose in Vaughan Williams's music, however much its terms were distilled, diversified and qualified over the years. Implicit dualism is already apparent in the two-chord progression from A Sea Symphony (see ex.2), but does not become a disruptive force there; by the Fourth Symphony, however, it has been drawn out and collapsed into a form, the polarities of which cannot co-exist without dialectical confrontation. Whatever spiritual or philosophical significance attributed to such oppositions, they are a central feature of Vaughan Williams's entire oeuvre.

The impressive variety of contrasts that Vaughan Williams commanded during his career owed much to the diverse range of styles and materials he mastered from the mid-1920s onwards – partly through experimentation and partly through continental influences, the most important of whom was Bartók. (Holst was important as a conduit for continental developments as well as through direct influence.) In terms of pitch organization, Vaughan Williams incorporated chromatic elements within individual modal or gapped constructions as well as through polymodality and parallel harmonic motion. Octanic and hexatonic collections are introduced during this period; the so-called Lydian minor scale (e.g. C-D-E-F♯-G-A♭-B♭) makes its first appearance in Sancta Civitas and was used frequently in the composer's final decade. Such materials normalize chromatic elements without invoking their expressively charged functions as leading notes or appoggiaturas (although these are still available when required). Other anti-Romantic features of the inter-war music include the doubling of melodic strands at the bare fourth or fifth; quartal structures may also play a melodic role.

A new tendency for sparse textures reflected Vaughan Williams's interest in the neo-classical movement (though he had loved Bach well before the 1920s made it fashionable). Baroque motor rhythms furnished an energy well-suited to his new harmonic concerns and an emotionally neutral quality that added a dimension to his expressive gamut; both qualities were exploited in the openings of the violin and piano concertos. Neo-classical concerns may have also suggested the dance and march parodies notable in Job, the final movement of the Piano Concerto (an angular chromatic waltz), the scherzos of the symphonies from the Fourth onwards, the finale of the Fourth, the ‘Homage to Henry Hall’ from the Partita and parts of The Pilgrim's Progress, although such music tends to evoke Mahler and Shostakovich rather than Stravinsky or Milhaud.

In his final decade, Vaughan Williams extended his expressive resources further with a new approach to timbre. This not only involved experimentation with unusual instruments and combinations, but also the use of timbre and texture as a primary means of articulating structure (such as in the third movement of the Sinfonia antartica), an approach facilitated by the submergence of through-composed trajectories under fragmented, modular surfaces of sharp juxtapositions. Yet fragmentation at one level was offset by the motivic and harmonic interpenetration of contrasting ideas in a subtler and deeper fashion than ever before: the starkly opposed dualisms of the works of the 1930s and 40s are now shown to be formed of cognate terms, and paradox and ambivalence predominate at almost every level. The most impressive achievement of the period, and the last completed major work, is the Ninth Symphony. Both outer movements employ highly original structures – the carefully graded and layered engineering of rhythmic momentum in the first movement is especially striking – and the work offers one of Vaughan Williams's most impressive essays in finely balanced tonal and modal ambiguities. Ex.10, taken from the finale, is typical of the late works in its Janus-faced, light-dark reiteration of a cadential formula.

Nearly all commentators have stressed the centrality of British models in shaping Vaughan Williams's development. Indeed, it has been implied that he was technically unable to master the challenges of the more ‘progressive’ foreign music of his day. While it is true that folksong and early English music provided a strong impetus on certain fronts, not least as a model of flexible contrapuntal technique and a fund of modal resources, the impact of these influences can be easily over-estimated. A general emphasis on British sources has fostered the myth of a lone, rather amateurish figure almost entirely cut off from continental developments. Yet Vaughan Williams's early works show him well able to learn from the dominant continental composers of the day – Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Verdi among others – and from Parry, Stanford and Elgar; he was one of the first British composers to assimilate successfullly the influence of Ravel and Debussey; and later he responded to Bartók, Stravinsky and Sibelius, and even, at the end of his life, to the young Britten. He was, in fact, a composer of great originality who was nevertheless perennially curious about the music of others.

9. Reception and influence.

Vaughan William's place in the repertory now appears secure, fixed by a number of the symphonies and smaller-scale orchestral works, and by vocal music, particularly for amateurs. For a long time his reputation was inextricably enmeshed with the degree to which his art and life were deemed to reflect narrowly English concerns and influences. Specifically, a perceived association with the trope of Englishness dominant during the inter-war years – conservative, agrarian, insular and emotionally undemonstrative – made him a natural musical target for the wider post-1945 reaction against this national self-image. Although a more balanced picture is emerging, stressing the multi-faceted and at times subversive character of Vaughan Williams's nationalism, echoes of old polemics still reverberate. Nevertheless, if the critical pendulum has swung back and forth, tallies of performances, broadcasts and recordings have always remained healthy, even if sustained during some periods more by amateur, semi-professional and provincial groups than by first-rank ensembles.

A bifurcation between critical and popular reception was evident early in the composer's career, but here the poles were reversed. As early as 1903 and 1904 the composer received enthusiastic critical notices – from influential figures such as Edwin Evans and William Barclay Squire – that already singled him out from the rest of his generation; and in 1907 the première of Toward the Unknown Region established a definite landmark for his growing reputation. Yet broader appreciation came only slowly. Even ‘Linden Lea’ (1901), probably Vaughan Williams's most widely performed piece, did not become a standard until the 1920s; the Tallis Fantasia, eventually played internationally, was not an immediate success. In the pre-war period, it was rather A London Symphony that finally confirmed him as the leading English composer of his generation. Here for the first time nationalism became as significant issue in his reception: the ‘London’ set the stage for the 1920s and the formation of enduring facets of Vaughan Williams's image. Paramount was that of the nature mystic, and here another symphony, the Pastoral, served as a focal point. Among supporters and detractors alike, the reception of his work established much of the misguided rhetoric surrounding the so-called ‘cowpat’ school; the true character of this haunted symphony, conceived on the battlefields of France, was almost buried under facile quips about cows, sheep and farmers.

For much of his career, but especially in the inter-war years, Vaughan Williams enjoyed the mixed blessing of being closely associated with key elements in the emerging musical establishment, including the RCM, Oxford and Cambridge, The Times and, perhaps most importantly of all, the BBC (although he used these connections as often to benefit other composers, including the young and relatively unknown, as himself). He was well served by publishers; here the key relationship was that begun in 1924 with Oxford University Press. In contrast with broadcasting, the gramophone industry did not figure largely in his career (comparison with Elgar and Britten here is instructive): he conducted just two discs of his own music, and was not generally well represented in the catalogue until after World War II. But another medium – the cinema – became important to him, bringing his music before a new mass audience from the early 1940s on.

During this decade the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies also reached a large public, as well as finding critical favour. But by the 1950s the cool critical reception of the last three symphonies foreshadowed the slump that would follow the composer's death; The Pilgrim's Progress also failed to convince, and the achieved simplicity of Hodie was misconstrued as ‘damaging primitivity’ (Mitchell, c1954–5). A common charge was that of insularity; ironically, during this same period Vaughan Williams's reputation in the United States was at its zenith (other evidence refuting the idea that his music cannot be exported includes a strong tally of performances in continental Europe during his lifetime, and recent interest in his music in Russia and Germany). Aware of Vaughan Williams since just after World War I, by the 1950s American audiences placed him in the same category as Prokofiev, Hindemith and Sibelius, and conductors such as Szell and Mitropoulos competed fiercely for premières; his influence is plain to hear in works by Hovhaness, Hanson, Schuman and others.

Vaughan Williams's impact on British composers was strongest between the wars. Although reinforced by his teaching, it was not limited to official pupils; this is clear from the music of Howells, Finzi and Rubbra, as well as certain works by Tippett and Britten. His influence on art music faded in the radical environment of the 1960s, but church music remained susceptible, along with film and television scores. Both his and Holst's impact on grass-roots musical culture can be detected in the confluence of folk-like melody and modal harmony notable in the later music of the Beatles and subsequent progressive rock. The waning of his influence in art music was exacerbated by a global trend away from tonal and large-scale symphonic music towards atonal modernism. Inevitably this affected musicological interest as well as performance and composition, and after the official life and works studies were published in the mid-1960s little else appeared for two decades; although the USA generated some academic dissertations, few constituted primary research, and the virtually complete absence of such studies in the UK is striking. Yet with the decline of hard-line modernism in the wider musical world, and the growing popularity of contemplative tonal music by Tavener, Górecki and others, Vaughan Williams's fortunes have begun to rise once again. The mid-1980s saw a surge in new research projects, live performances and recordings, and in 1994 the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society was founded.


for a complete list including juvenilia, sketches, incomplete works and arrangements, see Kennedy (A1982, rev. 2/1996)

Dates given are of main period of composition


The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (pastoral episode, 1, Vaughan Williams, after J. Bunyan), 1921

London, RCM, 11 July 1922

incl. in The Pilgrim’s Progress

Old King Cole (ballet), chorus and orch, 1923

Cambridge, Trinity College, 5 June 1923

Hugh the Drover, or Love in the Stocks (romantic ballad op, 2, H. Child), 1910–14, last rev. 1956

London, His Majesty’s, 14 July 1924

On Christmas Night (masque with dancing, singing and miming, A. Bolm and Vaughan Williams, after C. Dickens), 1926

Chicago, Eighth Street, 26 Dec 1926

Sir John in Love (op, 4, Vaughan Williams, after W. Shakespeare), 1924–8

London, RCM, 21 March 1929

Job (masque for dancing, G. Keynes and G. Raverat, after W. Blake), 1927–30

London, Cambridge, 5 July 1931

The Poisoned Kiss (romantic extravaganza, 3, E. Sharp, after R. Garnett), 1927–9, last rev. 1956–7

Cambridge, Arts, 12 May 1936

Riders to the Sea (op, 1, Vaughan Williams, after J.M. Synge), 1925–32

London, RCM, 1 Dec 1937

The Bridal Day (masque, U. Wood, after E. Spenser), 1938–9, rev. 1952–3

BBC TV, 5 June 1953

The Pilgrim’s Progress (morality, 4, Vaughan Williams, after Bunyan etc), completed 1949, rev. 1951–2

London, Covent Garden, 26 April 1951

Orchestral and band

for orchestra unless otherwise stated

Fantasia, pf, orch, 1896–1902, rev. 1904, unpubd

Serenade, a, 1898, unpubd

Bucolic Suite, 1900, unpubd

Heroic Elegy and Triumphal Epilogue, 1900–1, rev. 1902, unpubd

Symphonic Rhapsody, 1901–3, destroyed

The Solent, impression, 1903, unpubd

Boldre Wood, impression, ?1904–7, lost

Harnham Down, impression, 1904–7, unpubd

In the Fen Country, sym. impression, 1904, last rev. 1935

Norfolk Rhapsody no.1, 1905–6

Norfolk Rhapsody no.2, 1906, unpubd

Norfolk Rhapsody no.3, 1906, lost

March Past of the Kitchen Utensils, 1909

The Wasps, Aristophanic suite, incl. ov., 1909 [from incidental music]

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, 2 str orch, 1910, last rev. 1919

Fantasia on English Folk Songs, 1910, lost

A London Symphony (no.2), 1911–13, main rev. 1918, last rev. 1933

The Lark Ascending, romance, vn, orch, 1914, rev. 1920

Pastoral Symphony (no.3), completed 1921

English Folk Song Suite, military band, 1923

Sea Songs, march, military/brass band, 1923

Concerto (Concerto accademico), d, vn, str, 1924–5

Toccata marziale, military band, 1924

Flos campi, suite, small SATB chorus, va, small orch, 1925

Piano Concerto, C, 1926–31

Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes, vc, orch, 1929, unpubd

Job, concert version of ballet, 1930

Prelude and Fugue, c, 1930 [arr. of org work, 1921]

Symphony no.4, f, 1931–4

The Running Set, 1933

Fantasia on Greensleeves, 1/2 fl, harp, str, 1934 [arr. R. Greaves from Sir John in Love]

Suite, va, small orch, 1934

2 Hymn-tune Preludes, small orch, 1936

Symphony no.5, D, 1938–43, rev. 1951

Serenade to Music, arr. orch 1939

5 Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’, str, hp(s), 1939

The Story of a Flemish Farm, suite, 1943 [suite from film]

Concerto, a, ob, str, 1944

Symphony no.6, e, 1944–7, rev. 1950

Partita, 2 str orch, 1946–8 [from Double Trio, 1938]

Sinfonia antartica (no.7), S, small SSA chorus, orch, 1949–52

Concerto grosso, str in 3 groups, 1950

Romance, D♭, harmonica, str, pf, 1951

Prelude on an Old Carol Tune, 1953 [based on incid music to The Mayor of Casterbridge]

Bass Tuba Concerto, f, 1954

Prelude on 3 Welsh Hymn Tunes, brass band, 1955

Symphony no.8, d, 1953–6

Symphony no.9, e, 1956–8

Flourish for Glorious John [Barbirolli], 1957, unpubd

Variations, brass band, 1957

Vocal orchestral

Mass, S, A, T, B, SSAATTBB, orch, 1897–9, unpubd

The Garden of Proserpine (Swinburne), S, SATB, orch, 1897/8–9

A Sea Symphony (no.1) (W. Whitman), S, Bar, SATB, orch, 1903–9, last rev. 1923

Toward the Unknown Region (Whitman), SATB, orch, 1904/5–6

3 Nocturnes (Whitman), Bar, semi-chorus, orch, 1908, unpubd

Willow-Wood (cant., D.G. Rossetti), Bar/Mez, female chorus, orch, 1908–9 [after version for 1v, pf]

5 Mystical Songs (G. Herbert), Bar, SATB, orch, 1911

Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Bar, SATB, orch, 1912

4 Hymns (J. Taylor, I. Watts, R. Crashaw, R. Bridges), T, va, str, 1914

Lord, Thou hast been our Refuge (Ps xc), motet, SATB, semi-chorus, orch/org, 1921

Let us now praise famous men (Bible: Ecclesiasticus), unison chorus, pf/org/ small orch, 1923

On Wenlock Edge (A.E. Housman), T, orch, arr. c1923

Sancta civitas (orat, Bible: Revelation etc.), T, Bar, SATB, semi-chorus, distant chorus, orch, 1923–5

Darest thou now, o Soul (Whitman), unison chorus, pf/str, 1925

Te Deum, G, SATB, org/orch, 1928

Benedicite (Apocrypha, J. Austin), S, SATB, orch, 1929

3 Children’s Songs for a Spring Festival (F.M. Farrer), unison chorus, str, 1929

3 Choral Hymns (M. Coverdale), Bar/T, SATB, orch, 1929

Psalm c, SATB, orch, 1929

In Windsor Forest (cant., Shakespeare), SATB, orch, 1930 [based on Sir John in Love]

Magnificat, A, SA, fl, orch, 1932

5 Tudor Portraits (J. Skelton), choral suite, A/Mez, Bar, SATB, orch, 1935

Dona nobis pacem (cant., Whitman etc), S, Bar, SATB, orch, 1936

Nothing is Here for Tears (J. Milton), choral song, unison chorus/SATB, pf/org/orch, 1936

Festival Te Deum, SATB, org/orch, 1937

Flourish for a Coronation (various), SATB, orch, 1937

All Hail the Power, hymn, arr. unison chorus, SATB, org/orch, 1938

Serenade to Music (Shakespeare), (4S, 4A, 4T, 4B)/(S, A, T, B, SATB), orch, 1938

6 Choral Songs, to be Sung in Time of War (P.B. Shelley), unison chorus, pf/orch, 1940

England, my England (W.E. Henley), choral song, Bar, SSAATTBB, unison chorus, orch/pf, 1941

A Song of Thanksgiving (various), spkr, S, SATB, orch, 1944

An Oxford Elegy (M. Arnold), spkr, small SATB chorus, small orch, 1947–9

The Voice out of the Whirlwind (Bible: Job), motet, SATB, org/orch, 1947

Fantasia (quasi variazione) on the Old 104th (Pss), pf, SATB, orch, 1949

Folksongs of the Four Seasons (cant.), SSAA, orch, 1949

The Sons of Light (cant., U. Wood), SATB, orch, 1950

Sun, Moon, Stars and Man (Wood), song cycl, unison chorus, str/pf, 1950 [based on The Sons of Light]

Hodie (This Day) (Christmas cant., various), S, T, Bar, SATB, boys’ chorus, orch, 1953–4

The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune, arr. SATB, unison chorus, orch, org, 1953

Epithalamion (cant., E. Spenser), Bar, SATB, small orch, 1957 [based on The Bridal Day]

The First Nowell (S. Pakenham), nativity play, solo vv, SATB, small orch, 1958, completed Douglas

Other choral works

With org/pf

Sound Sleep (C. Rossetti), SSA, pf, 1903

O clap your hands (Ps xlvii), motet, SATB, brass, org, 1920

A Farmer’s Son so Sweet (trad.), arr. TBB, pf, 1921

The Seeds of Love (trad.), arr. TBB, pf, 1923

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (The Village Service), SATB, org, 1925

An Acre of Land (trad.), arr. TTBB, pf, ?1934

O how amiable (Pss lxxxiv, xc), anthem, SATB, org. 1934)

The Pilgrim Pavement (B. Partridge), hymn, S, SATB, org, 1934

The Ploughman (trad.), arr. TTBB, pf, ?1934

Morning, Communion and Evening Services, d, unison chorus, SATB, org, ?1939

9 Motets, ?1941, lost: All nations whom thou hast made shall come; Be strong all ye people of the land; I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me; Jesus said, Inasmuch as ye did unto one; Jesus said, Upon this rock will I build my church; Nations shall come to thy light; Jesus said, Blessed are they that mourn; There were great voices in Heaven saying; Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace

The Airman’s Hymn (E.G. Lytton), unison chorus, pf/org, 1942

O Taste and See (Pss), motet, SATB, org, 1952

A Choral Flourish (Pss), SATB, org/2 tpt, 1956

A Vision of Aeroplanes (N. Ezekiel), motet, SATB, org, 1956


3 Elizabethan Songs, partsongs, SATB, ?1891–6: Sweet Day (G. Herbert), The Willow Song, O Mistress mine (Shakespeare)

Come Away Death (Shakespeare), partsong, SSATB, early

Rest (C. Rossetti), partsong, SSATB, 1902

Ring out your bells (P. Sidney), madrigal, SSATB, 1902

Fain would I change that note (anon.), canzonet, SATB, 1907

Love is a sickness (ballet, S. Daniel), SATB, 1913

O Praise the Lord of Heaven (Ps cxlviii), anthem, SSAATTBB, semi-chorus, 1913

Mass, g, S, A, T, B, SSAATTBB, 1920–21

O vos omnes, motet, A, SSAATTBB, 1922

I’ll never love thee more (S. Graham), SATB, 1934

Valiant for Truth (Bunyan), motet, SATB, org/pf ad lib, 1940

A Call to the Free Nations (Briggs), SATB/unison chorus, 1941

The Souls of the Righteous (Bible: Solomon), motet, S, T, Bar, SATB, 1947

Prayer to the Father of Heaven (Skelton), motet, SATB, 1948

3 Shakespeare Songs, SATB, 1951: Full Fathom Five, The Cloud-capp’d Towers, Over Hill, Over Dale

Silence and Music (U. Vaughan Williams), SATB, 1953

Heart’s Music (T. Campion), SATB, 1954

Song for a Spring Festival (U. Vaughan Williams), SATB, 1955


of English folksongs unless otherwise stated

Bushes and Briars, TTBB/SATB, 1908

The Jolly Ploughboy, TTBB, 1908

Alister McAlpine’s Lament (Scottish trad.), SATB., 1912

Down Among the Dead Men, TTBB, 1912

Mannin Veen (Manx trad.), SATB, 1912

Ward the Pirate, TTBB, 1912

The Winter is Gone, TTBB, 1912

5 English Folksongs, SATB, 1913: The Dark-eyed Sailor, The Springtime of the Year, Just as the Tide was Flowing, The Lover’s Ghost, Wassail Song

The Farmer’s Boy, TTBB, 1921

Loch Lomond (Scottish trad.), Bar, TTBB, 1921

The Mermaid, S, SATB, 1921

The Old Folks at Home (S. Foster), Bar, TTBB, 1921

Ca’ the Yowes (Scottish trad.), T, SATB, 1922

The Seeds of Love, TTBB, 1923

The Turtle Dove, Bar, SSATB, ?1924

An Acre of Land, SATB, ?1934

John Dory, SATB, ?1934

Tobacco’s but an Indian weed, TTBB, ?1934

The world it went well with me then, TTBB, ?1934

Dives and Lazarus, T, Bar/B, TTBB, ?1942

Early in the Spring, SSA, 1950

In Bethlehem City, SSA, 1950

The Unquiet Grave, SSA, 1950

3 Gaelic Songs, SATB, 1954: Dawn on the hills, Come let us gather cockles, Wake and rise

God bless the master of this house, SATB, 1956

Hymn tunes

Down Ampney (Come down, O Love Divine), c1905

Randolph (God be with you till we meet again), c1905

Salve festa dies (Hail thee, festival day), c1905

Sine nomine (For all the saints), c1905

Cumnor (Servants of God, or sons), 1925

Guildford (England, arise the long, long night is over), 1925

King’s Weston (At the name of Jesus), 1925

Magda (Saviour, again to Thy dear name), 1925

Oakley (The night is come like to the day), 1925

Abinger (I vow to thee my country), 1931

Mantegna (Into the woods my master went), 1931

Marathon (Servants of the great adventure), 1931

White Gates (Fierce raged the tempest), 1931

Little Cloister (As the disciples, when Thy Son had left them), 1935

Also many arrs. from folksong tunes: see The English Hymnal and Songs of Praise


8 Traditional English Carols, arr. SATB/1v, pf, 1919: On Christmas Day, On Christmas Night, The Twelve Apostles, Down in yon forest, May-day Carol, The truth sent from above, The Birth of the Saviour, Wassail Song

12 Traditional Carols from Herefordshire, arr. SATB/1v, pf, 1920: The Holy Well (2 versions), Christmas now is drawing near at hand, Joseph and Mary, The Angel Gabriel, God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen, New Year’s Carol, On Christmas Day, Dives and Lazarus, The Miraculous Harvest, The Saviour’s Love, The Seven Virgins

9 Carols, arr. Bar, TTBB, ?1942: God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen, As Joseph was a-walking, Mummers’ Carol, The First Nowell, The Lord at first, Coventry Carol, I saw three ships, A Virgin most pure, Dives and Lazarus

2 Carols, arr. SATB, 1945: Come love we God, There is a flower

Also contributions to The Oxford Book of Carols (London, 1928), incl. four originals: The Golden Carol (trad.), Wither’s Rocking Hymn (G. Wither), Snow in the Street (W. Morris), Blake’s Cradle Song (Blake)


for 1v, pf unless otherwise stated

A Cradle Song (S.T. Coleridge), ?1894

Claribel (A.Tennyson), ?1896

How can the tree but wither? (T. Vaux), ?1896

The Splendour Falls (Tennyson), ?1896

Dreamland (C. Rossetti), ?1898

Linden Lea (W. Barnes), 1901

Orpheus with his Lute (Shakespeare), ?1901

Songs of Travel (R.L. Stevenson), no.7 1901, remainder 1904: The Vagabond, Let Beauty Awake, The Roadside Fire, Youth and Love, In Dreams, The Infinite Shining Heavens, Whither must I Wander?, Bright is the Ring of Words, I have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope

Boy Johnny (C. Rossetti), ?1902

If I were a Queen (C. Rossetti), ?1902

Tears, Idle Tears (Tennyson), 1902

Willow-wood (cant., D.G. Rossetti), 1902–3, unpubd

The House of Life (D.G. Rossetti), 1903: Love-sight, Silent Noon, Love’s Minstrels, Heart’s Haven, Death in Love, Love’s Last Gift

When I am dead, my dearest (C. Rossetti), ?1903

The Winter’s Willow (W. Barnes), ?1903

Buonaparty (T. Hardy), 1908

On Wenlock Edge (Housman), T, pf, str qt, 1908–9: On Wenlock Edge, From far, from eve and morning, Is my team ploughing?, Oh, when I was in love with you, Bredon Hill, Clun

The Sky above the Roof (P. Verlaine, trans. M. Dearmer), 1908

Merciless Beauty (G. Chaucer), 3 rondels, S/T, 2 vn, vc, 1921: Your eyen two, So hath your beauty, Since I from love

Dirge for Fidele (Shakespeare), 2 Mez, pf, 1922

4 Poems by Fredegond Shove, c1922: Motion and Stillness, Four Nights, The New Ghost, The Water Mill

2 Poems by Seumas O’Sullivan, 1925: The Twilight People, A Piper

3 Poems by Walt Whitman, ?1925: Nocturne, A Clear Midnight, Joy, Shipmate, Joy!

3 Songs from Shakespeare, 1925: Take, O take those lips away, When icicles hang by the wall, Orpheus with his Lute (2nd setting)

Along the Field (Housman), 1v, vn, 1927, rev. 1954: We’ll to the woods no more, Along the field, The half-moon westers low, In the morning, The sigh that heaves the grasses, Goodbye, Fancy’s Knell, With rue my heart is laden

7 Songs from The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan), before 1951

In the Spring (Barnes), 1952

4 Last Songs (U. Vaughan Williams), 1954–8: Procris, Tired, Hands, Eyes and Heart, Menelaus

10 Blake Songs, 1v, ob, 1957: Infant Joy, A Poison Tree, The Piper, London, The Lamb, The Shepherd, Ah! Sunflower, Cruelty has a human heart, The Divine Image, Eternity

3 Vocalises, S, cl, 1958


of English folksongs unless otherwise stated

Blackmwore by the Stour (Barnes), 1901

Entlaubet ist der Walde (Ger. trad.), 1902

Adieu (Ger. trad., trans. A.F. Ferguson), S, Bar, pf, 1903

L’amour de moy (Fr. trad., trans. England), 1903

Cousin Michael (Ger. trad., trans. Ferguson), S, Bar, pf, 1903

Folksongs from the Eastern Counties (ed. C.J. Sharp), collected and arr. 1903–6: Bushes and Briars, Tarry Trowsers, A Bold Young Farmer, The Lost Lady Found, As I Walked Out, The Lark in the Morning, On Board a Ninety-eight, The Captain’s Apprentice, Ward the Pirate, The Saucy Bold Robber, The Bold Princess Royal, The Lincolnshire Farmer, The Sheffield Apprentice, Geordie, Harry the Tailor

Jean Renaud (Fr. trad., trans. England), 1903

Réveillez-vous, Piccars (Fr. trad., trans. England), 1903

Think of me (Ger. trad., trans. Ferguson), S, Bar, pf, 1903

La ballade de Jésus Christ (Fr. trad.), ?1904

Chanson de quête (Fr. trad.), ?1904

Folksongs for Schools (ed. W.G McNaught), arr. unison vv, pf, 1912: The Jolly Ploughboy, The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, Servant Man and Husbandman, The Female Highwayman, The Carter, I will give my love an apple, My Boy Billy, Down by the Riverside, The Fox, Farmyard Song, The Painful Plough

The Spanish Ladies, 1912

Folksongs from Newfoundland (collected and ed. M. Karpeles), arr. ?1934: Sweet William’s Ghost, The Cruel Mother, The Gypsy Laddie, The Bloody Gardener, The Maiden’s Lament, Proud Nancy, The Morning Dew, The Bonny Banks of Virgie-o, Earl Brand, Lord Akeman, The Lover’s Ghost, She’s like the swallow, Young Floro, The winter’s gone and past, The Cuckoo

2 English Folksongs, 1v, vn, ?1935: Searching for Lambs, The Lawyer

6 English Folksongs, ?1935: Robin Hood and the Pedlar, The Ploughman, One man, two men, The Brewer, Rolling in the dew, King William

Chamber and instrumental

String Quintet, c, 1897–8, unpubd

Quintet, D, cl, hn, pf trio, 1898, unpubd

Quintet, c, vn, va, vc, db, pf, 1903, last rev. 1905, unpubd

Ballade and Scherzo, 2 vn, 2 va, vc, 1904, unpubd

String Quartet, g, 1908–9, rev. 1921

Phantasy Quintet, 2 vn, 2 va, vc, 1912

2 Pieces, vn, pf, ?1912

Suite de ballet, fl, pf, ?1913

3 Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes, org, 1920: Bryn Calfaria, Rhosymedre, Hyfrydol

6 Short Pieces, pf, ?1920

Prelude and Fugue, c, org, 1921, orchd 1930

6 Studies in English Folksong, vc, pf, 1926

also arr. vn/va/cl, pf

Hymn Tune Prelude on Song 13 by Orlando Gibbons, pf, 1928

Passacaglia on B–G–C, org, 1933, unpubd

6 Teaching Pieces, pf, 1934

Double Trio, str sextet, 1938, unpubd

Suite for Pipes, 1939

Household Music, 3 preludes on Welsh hymn tunes, str qt/other insts, 1940–41

String Quartet, a, 1942–4

Introduction and Fugue, 2 pf, 1943–6

The Lake in the Mountains, pf, 1947 [from film score 49th Parallel]

Sonata, a, vn, pf, 1954

2 Preludes on Welsh Folksongs, org, 1956

Romance, va, pf, date unknown

Incidental music

unpublished in original form, unless otherwise stated

For the theatre

Pan’s Anniversary (masque, B. Jonson), 1905, lost

The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan), S, A, SATB, str, 1909, lost

The Wasps (Aristophanes), T, Bar, TTBB, orch, 1909

The Bacchae (Euripides), A, SATB, orch, 1911

Electra (Euripides), spkr, S, A, SATB, orch, 1911

Iphigenia in Tauris (Euripides), SATB, orch, 1911

The Blue Bird (M. Maeterlinck), orch, 1913

The Death of Tintagiles (Maeterlinck), orch, 1913

The Devil’s Disciple (G.B. Shaw), 1913

Henry IV, Part 2 (Shakespeare), 1913

Henry V (Shakespeare), 1913

The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare), 1913, lost

Richard II (Shakespeare), 1913

Richard III (Shakespeare), 1913

Twelfth Night (Shakespeare), pipe, tabor, str qt, kbd, ?1913

For films

49th Parallel, 1940–41

Coastal Command, 1942

The People’s Land, 1943

The Story of a Flemish Farm, 1943

Stricken Peninsula, 1944

The Loves of Joanna Godden, 1946

Scott of the Antarctic, 1948

Dim Little Island, 1949

Bitter Springs, 1950

The England of Elizabeth, 1955

The Vision of William Blake, 1957

For radio

The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan), 1942

Richard II (Shakespeare), 1944

The Mayor of Casterbridge (Hardy), 1950


for more comprehensive list see Starbuck (A1967) and Butterworth (A1990)

  • ‘Conducting’, ‘Fugue’, Grove2
  • ‘Who Wants the English Composer?’, R.C.M. Magazine, 9 (1912–13), 11–15; repr. in Foss (1950)
  • National Music (London, 1934/R)
  • Some Thoughts on Beethoven’s Choral Symphony with Writings on other Musical Subjects (London, 1953/R)
  • The Making of Music (Ithaca, NY, 1955/R)
  • Correspondence with Holst and some early articles inHeirs and Rebels, ed. U. Vaughan Williams and I. Holst (London, 1959)
  • National Music and Other Essays (London, 1963, rev. 2/1997)

Correspondence with Douglas in Douglas (1988)


A: Catalogues and source studies
  • P.J. Willetts: ‘The Ralph Vaughan Williams Collection’, British Museum Quarterly, 24 (1961), 3–11
  • A.E.F. Dickinson: ‘The Vaughan Williams Manuscripts’, MR, 23 (1962), 177–94
  • P.R. Starbuck: Ralph Vaughan Williams, O.M., 1872–1958: a Bibliography of his Literary Writings and Criticism of his Musical Works (diss., Library Association, 1967)
  • L. Foreman: ‘VW: a Bibliography of Dissertations’, MT, 113 (1972), 962–3
  • M. Kennedy: A Catalogue of the Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1982, rev. 2/1996)
  • R. Palmer, ed.: Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1983)
  • N. Butterworth: Ralph Vaughan Williams: a Guide to Research (New York, 1990)
  • A. Frogley: ‘Vaughan Williams and the New World: Manuscript Sources in North American Libraries’, Notes, 48 (1991–2), 1175–92
B: Works in context of British music
  • W. Barclay Squire: ‘On Some English Music’, The Pilot (21 March 1903)
  • E. Evans: ‘Modern British Composers: Vaughan Williams’, MT, 61 (1920), 232–4, 302–5, 371–4
  • F. Toye: ‘Studies in English Music: Vaughan Williams and the Folk Music Movement’, The Listener, 5 (24 July 1931)
  • W.H. Mellers: Music and Society (London, 1946, rev. 2/1950)
  • A. Hutchings: ‘Vaughan Williams and the Tudor Tradition’, The Listener (15 Feb 1951)
  • R. Taylor: ‘Vaughan Williams and English National Music’, Cambridge Journal, 6 (1953), 615–24
  • E.M. Payne: ‘Vaughan Williams and Folksong’, MR, 15 (1954), 103–26
  • P. Harrington: ‘Holst and Vaughan Williams: Radical Pastoral’, Music and the Politics of Culture, ed. C. Norris (London, 1989), 106–27
  • A. Howkins: ‘Greensleeves and the Idea of National Music’, Patriotism: the Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, 3, ed. R. Samuel (London and New York, 1989), 89–98
  • E.B. Macan: An Analytical Survey and Comparative Study of the Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, c1910–1935 (diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1991)
C: Life and works
  • A.H. Fox Strangways: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams’, ML, 1 (1920), 78–86
  • M.C. Colles: ‘The Music of Vaughan Williams’, The Chesterian, no.21 (1922), 129–34
  • A.E.F. Dickinson: An Introduction to the Music of R. Vaughan Williams (London, 1928)
  • S.A. Bayliss: ‘Obsession and Originality’, The Sackbut, 10 (1929–30), 216–18
  • E. Rubbra: ‘Vaughan Williams, some Technical Characteristics’, MMR, 64 (1934), 27–8
  • E. Rubbra: ‘The Later Vaughan Williams’, ML, 18 (1937), 1–8
  • M. Brian: ‘The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, MO, 63 (1939–40), 345–8, 391 only
  • W. Kimmel: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Melodic Style’, MQ, 27 (1941), 491–9
  • S. Goddard: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams, O.M.’, British Music of our Time, ed. A.L. Bacharach (Harmondsworth, 1946), 83–96
  • S. Goddard: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams’, The Symphony, ed. R. Hill (Harmondsworth, 1949), 24–35
  • H.J. Foss: Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1950)
  • E.M. Payne: The Folksong Element in the Music of Vaughan Williams (diss., U. of Liverpool, 1953)
  • P.M. Young: Vaughan Williams (London, 1953)
  • F. Howes: The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1954)
  • D. Mitchell: ‘Contemporary Chronicle: Revaluations: Vaughan Williams’, MO, 78 (1954–5), 409–11, 471 only
  • S. Pakenham: Ralph Vaughan Williams: a Discovery of his Music (London, 1957)
  • M. Karpeles: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams, O.M.’, JEFDSS, 8 (1956–9), 121–2
  • O. Neighbour: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872–1958’, The Score, no.24 (1958), 7–13
  • E. Benbow, ed.: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872–1958’, R.C.M. Magazine, 55/1 (1959) [whole issue]
  • J. Day: Vaughan Williams (London, 1961, rev. 2/1975, rev.3/1998)
  • A.E.F. Dickinson: Vaughan Williams (London, 1963)
  • M. Kennedy: The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London, 1964, rev. 2/1980)
  • U. Vaughan Williams: R.V.W.: a Biography (London, 1964)
  • H. Ottaway: Vaughan Williams (London, 1966)
  • D. Cox: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams’, The Symphony, 2, ed. R. Simpson (Harmondsworth, 1967, 2/1972), 114–27
  • M. Hurd: Vaughan Williams (London, 1970)
  • J.E. Lunn and U.Vaughan Williams: Ralph Vaughan Williams: a Pictorial Biography (London, 1971)
  • M. Kennedy: ‘The Unknown Vaughan Williams’, PRMA, 99 (1972–3), 31–41
  • H. Ottaway: ‘Scott and After: the Final Phase’, MT, 113 (1972), 959–62
  • D.M. Foraud: ‘Vaughan Williams at Reigate Priory’, Composer, no.54 (1975), 15–18
  • U. Vaughan Williams: ‘Pupil and Friend: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ravel’, Adam, 41 (1978), 26–8
  • L.-W. Hesse: Studien zum Schaffen des Komponisten Ralph Vaughan Williams (Regensburg, 1983)
  • W. Mellers: Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion (London, 1989)
  • A. Frogley, ed.: Vaughan Williams Studies (Cambridge, 1996)
  • L. Foreman, ed.: Vaughan Williams in Perspective (London, 1998)
D: Studies of specific works
    (i) Stage
    • S. Goddard: ‘The Operas of Vaughan Williams’, The Listener, 20 (1938), 917
    • S. Goddard: ‘“The Poisoned Kiss”’, The Listener, 26 (1941), 737
    • N. Suckling: ‘Vaughan Williams and the Fat Knight’, The Listener, 35 (1946), 693
    • G. Keynes: ‘“Job”’, Sadler’s Wells Ballet Book, ed. A.L. Haskell, 2 (London, 1949), 35
    • S. Wilson: ‘“Hugh the Drover”’, Opera, 1/1 (1950), 29–31
    • H.J. Foss: ‘“The Pilgrim’s Progress” by Vaughan Williams’, Music 1952, ed. A. Robertson (Harmondsworth, 1952), 38
    • J. Warrack: ‘Vaughan Williams and Opera’, Opera, 9 (1958), 698
    • U. Vaughan Williams: ‘Vaughan Williams and Opera’, Composer, 41 (1971), 25
    • A.-M.H. Forbes: ‘Motivic Unity in Ralph Vaughan Williams's “Riders to the Sea”’, MR, 44 (1983), 234–45
    • A.O. Weltzien: ‘Notes and Lineaments: Vaughan Williams's “Job”: a Masque for Dancing and Blake's Illustration’, MQ, 76 (1992), 301–36
    • A. Sanders McFarland: ‘A Deconstruction of William Blake's Vision: Vaughan Williams and “Job”’, International Journal of Musicology, 3 (1994), 339–71
(ii) Vocal
  • E. Evans: ‘English Song and “On Wenlock Edge”’, MT, 59 (1918), 247–9
  • H. Ould: ‘The Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, English Review, 46 (1928), 605–9
  • R. Terry: ‘“Dona nobis pacem”’, The Listener (4 Nov 1936)
  • A. Frank: ‘Reincarnating Skelton’, The Listener (20 Jan 1937)
  • W. Kimmel: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Choice of Words’, ML, 19 (1938), 132–42
  • U. Vaughan Williams: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams and his Choice of Words for Music’, PRMA, 99 (1972–3), 81–9
  • A. Herbert: ‘Vaughan Williams's Two Whitman Duets: Sketches for “A Sea Symphony”’, Journal of the RVW Society, no.7 (1996), 18–20
(iii) Instrumental
  • H. Howells: ‘Vaughan Williams’s “Pastoral Symphony”’, ML, 3 (1922), 122–32
  • H. Howells: ‘Vaughan Williams’s “Concerto accademico”’, The Dominant, 1 (1928), 24–8
  • D.F. Tovey: ‘Vaughan Williams: Pastoral Symphony’, Essays in Musical Analysis, 2 (London, 1935–9/R, abridged 2/1981), 129–32
  • H.J. Foss: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Symphonic Manner’, The Listener (5 March 1942)
  • G.N. Long: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony: a Study in Interpretation’, MMR, 77 (1947), 116–21
  • E.M. Payne: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Orchestral Colourings’, MMR, 84 (1954), 3–11
  • D. Cooke: ‘Symphony No.6 in E minor, by Vaughan Williams’, The Language of Music (Oxford, 1959/R), 252–74
  • D. Brown: ‘Vaughan Williams’s Symphonies: some Judgments Reviewed’, MMR, 90 (1960), 44–52
  • E.S. Schwartz: The Symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams (Amherst, MA, 1964)
  • H. Ottaway: Vaughan Williams Symphonies (London, 1972)
  • H. Ottaway: ‘Misplaced Symphony?’, MT, 114 (1973), 1143–4
  • A. Frogley: ‘Vaughan Williams and Thomas Hardy: “Tess” and the Slow Movement of the Ninth Symphony’, ML, 65 (1987), 42–59
  • B. Adams: ‘The Stages of Revision of Vaughan Williams's Sixth Symphony’, MO, 73 (1989), 382–400
  • A. Frogley: The Genesis of Vaughan Williams's Ninth Symphony (diss., Oxford U., 1989)
  • M. Vaillancourt: ‘Modal and Thematic Coherence in Vaughan Williams's “Pastoral Symphony”’,MR, 52 (1991), 203–17
  • A. Frogley: ‘H.G. Wells and Vaughan Williams's “London Symphony”: Politics and Culture in fin-de-siécle England’, Sundry Sorts of Music Books: Essays on the British Library Collections, ed. C. Banks, A. Searle and M. Turner (London, 1993), 299–308
E: Correspondence, memoirs, reception history
  • A. Bliss and others: ‘Tributes to Vaughan Williams’, MT, 99 (1958), 535–9
  • A.C. Boult: ‘Vaughan Williams and his Interpreters’, MT, 113 (1972), 957–8
  • R. Douglas: Working with R.V.W. (London, 1972)
  • U. Vaughan Williams: ‘The VW Centenary’, MT, 113 (1972), 955–6
  • M. Kennedy: ‘Ralph Vaughan Williams in the First Centenary of his Birth’, Studi musicali, 2 (1973), 175–87
  • Vaughan Williams in Dorking: a Collection of Personal Reminiscences of the Composer Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams, OM (Dorking, 1979)
  • H. Cole: ‘Vaughan Williams Remembered’, Composer, no.68 (1979–80), 25–7
  • J. McKay Martin: ‘Recollections of RVW’, MO, 107 (1983–4), 303–6
  • R. Douglas: Working with Vaughan Williams (London, 1988)
  • J. Northrop Moore: Vaughan Williams: a Life in Photographs (Oxford, 1992)
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