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Williams, Vaughan

Ralph Vaughan Williams (October 12, 1872, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England—August 26, 1958, London, England) was an English composer in the first half of the twentieth century. He was the founder of the nationalist movement in English music. Sir Charles Stanford and Sir Hubert Parry, two significant figures in the late 19th-century revival of English music, taught Vaughan Williams at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Royal College of Music in London. He studied in Berlin under the renowned composer Max Bruch in 1897–98 and Paris under Maurice Ravel in 1909. He started collecting folk songs around 1903, and from 1904 to 1906, and he served as musical editor of The English Hymnal, for which he composed his popular "Sine Nomine" ("For All the Saints"). He became a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music after serving in the artillery in World War I. His studies of English folk song and interest in Tudor-era English music nourished his creativity, allowing him to integrate modal elements (i.e., scales based on folk song and medieval scales) and rhythmic freedom into a highly personal and profoundly English musical style. Orchestral, stage, chamber, and vocal works are among Vaughan Williams' compositions. His three Norfolk Rhapsodies (numbers 2 and 3 later withdrawn), especially the first in E minor (first performed, 1906), were the first works to demonstrate his incorporation of folk song contours into a distinctive melodic and harmonic style. His nine symphonies cover a broad spectrum of emotions. A London Symphony (1914; rewritten 1915; rev. 1918, 1920, 1934) and Sinfonia Antartica (1953), an adaptation of his music for the film Scott of the Antarctic, are particularly popular (1949). The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), concerti for piano (later arranged for two pianos and orchestra), oboe and tuba, and the Romance for harmonica and orchestra are among the orchestral works (1952).

The Pilgrim's Progress (1951) and Job (1931), a masque for dancing, are two of his stage works that represent his extreme, mystical side. Hugh the Drover (1924), a ballad opera, is based on his interest in folk songs. Riders to the Sea (1937) is a moving adaptation of the play by John Millington Synge. On Wenlock Edge (1909), set to poems by A.E. Housman and consisting of a cycle for tenor, string quartet, and piano (later arranged for tenor and orchestra), and Five Mystical Songs (1911), set to poems by George Herbert, are two of his most beautiful works. The Mass in G Minor, the cantatas Against the Unknown Region (1907) and Dona Nobis Pacem (1936; Grant Us Peace), and the oratorio Sancta Civitas are among his choral works (1926; The Holy City). He also composed several part songs and hymn and folk song settings. For two centuries, George Frideric Handel, Felix Mendelssohn, and other lesser German composers had made Britain practically a musical province of Germany, but Vaughan Williams broke those links. Vaughan Williams, like nationalist composers such as Russian Modest Mussorgsky, Czech Bedrich Smetana, and Spanish Manuel de Falla, turned to a folk song as a wellspring of native musical style, unlike his predecessors in the English musical renaissance, Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Hubert Parry, and Sir Charles Stanford, who stayed within the Continental tradition.

Composition of English composer Vaughan Williams


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