Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ralph Vaughan Williams

I was sent this link of a review today of the movie produced by Tony Palmer titled "O Thou Transcendent" from It is a documentary of the life of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the extraordinary early 20th century British composer.

Known as the English Ethnomusicologist, at a time when Ethnomusicology was very much in vogue (Bartók, Kodàly, Sibelius, Grieg just to name a few other prominent musicians interested in incorporating their homeland folk songs into their repertoire with considerable success).

I have been an RVW fan for about as long as I can remember, and yet I am still amazed at how much of his choral music is not performed outside of his own country, or at least outside of “Anglican” centres of music. From numerous anthem like “Lord, Thou hast been our refuge”, “O How Amiable are thy Dwellings” or “Let us now Praise Famous Men”, to large orchestra/choral works like his “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” (where he made the “Sussex Carol” famous), and some secular works like his hauntingly beautiful “Three Shakespeare Songs”, and the list goes on. His orchestral music has made a certain impact, many people will have heard, or recognize “The Lark Ascending” and “Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis”, but how many of you know his Harmonica Concerto (Ok, they can’t all be winners…)

I have to wonder if his fame is masked by the experimentations of the dodecaphonic compositions of the 2nd Viennese school and extreme expressionism that was happening at other music centres at this time, and perhaps the English 20th century composers like RVW, Herbert Howells, Edmond Rubbra, William Woodsworth, Hubert Parry, and even some of the music of Edward Elgar have slipped through the cracks of music history.

I know not everyone will agree with me on this, but I truly believe that Modernism, post-Modernism (which I always thought was an oxymoron) and the Avant-Guard have had their time in the spotlight, and a gentle return to a neo-Romanticism is imminent, if not already here.

I haven’t seen the movie yet to make much of a comment on it, but I know we will be looking for the DVD in the weeks to come. I’ll try to post my own thoughts on it when I’ve had a chance to see it.

1 comment:

M Ryan Taylor said...

I'm in agreement about the return to a gentler music, but do we really have to call it 'neo-romanticism' . . . anything 'neo' is so un-romantic. :-)

P.S. Vaughan Williams was an early favorite of mine. I may not have sung him at church, but certainly at high school.