Ralph Vaughan Williams

On a whim, I decided to listen to Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” mostly because I’m on a Renaissance vocal music kick, and it was in the related videos side bar on youtube. Then from there I decide to listen to his “London Symphony” or Symphony 2 for the numerically inclined. After having been knocked dead twice by Ralph I take the big plunge and listen to his EPIC “Sea Symphony.” That was a pretty good way to spend two hours.

Before today I had never really listened to anything by Vaughan Williams, and I am regretting that, because his music is awesome. The Tallis Fantasia may be one of the most gorgeous things I have ever heard. And the idea of having three separate string sections (one full string orchestra, a chamber string orchestra and a string quartet) is genius. I read somewhere that he was imitating an organ, and there were a few parts where I could’ve sworn that there was an organ. It was basically 16 minutes of rapture.

The “London Symphony” was the piece that really kicked me in the balls. First off: holy shit, the orchestration is amazing!! I’d say the orchestral writing here is on par with the greats of orchestral writing, and hell, maybe even better, and that’s saying something because I’m a sucker for great orchestration. His use of smaller string sections (one desk here, played divisi, or variations of that) was totally new to me, and it is awesome. The whole thing was brilliant. A lot of the time I was thinking, wow this sounds like Holst, which really is no surprise considering Holst and Vaughan Williams were good friends and worked in a similar style, English Nationalism.

I mentioned this earlier: the Sea Symphony is epic. Lasting about 75 minutes or so doesn’t make a work epic though. A work lasting 75 minutes with full chorus, two soloists, huge orchestra, and an organ is epic. It uses texts from Walt Whitman, my favorite poet, which makes it even better for me. I thought there was quite a bit of it that sounded like Mahler, or maybe it was just the fact that it was long and used chorus that provided that thought. Regardless, at the end of the day, it’s Vaughan Williams and no one else. I definitely got the feeling Ralph doesn’t shit. Several times I was thinking, “That doesn’t seem right” or something like that. Too bad, Ralph don’t give a shit.

The moral of the story here is that I’ll probably be spending the better part of the next few days listening to everything by Vaughn Williams that I can get my hands on, and I have pretty big hands. Leggo!

About Why must you use all the notes

So much to do, so little reason to do so much of it...
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2 Responses to Ralph Vaughan Williams

  1. Aaron says:

    I completely agree, his orchestration in his 2nd is exceptional, it gives me goosebumps. I’ve listened to 1-6 extensively, and haven’t gotten around to listening to 7-9 because his first 6 are so good. You are also correct in saying Ralph don’t give a shit. People tried to tell him the Epilogue of his 6th was “…a vision of a post-nuclear world”. To which he replied: “It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.” Gotta respect that. I’m sure you’ve listened to it by now, but hopefully you found Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, another incredibly well put together piece. I prefer the strings arrangement over the band arrangement and found that out when we played it in Wind Ensemble. The strings version is just the way it was meant to be heard, to take you elsewhere.

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