Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ralph Vaughan-Williams - two song cycles

For over 30 years these two song cycles by Ralph Vaughan-Williams have been among my favourite pieces of classical music. Songs of Travel (1904) sets to music poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. The nine songs are to be taken as an entire work, finished by the short, bleak but ultimately uplifting I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope that talks directly to man's spiritual journey through life, summing up the entire cycle. This version, for orchestra and baritone voice, is sung by Sir Thomas Allen, accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The second song cycle is On Wenlock Edge, (1909), the setting to music of six poems by A.E. Housman from his collection A Shropshire Lad (1896). In my mind's eye I have the countryside to the south-west of the Midlands, an elegiac depiction of a rural England before the Great War. This orchestral version, is sung by Robert Tear (tenor), accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Four songs in the first YouTube clip, followed by the last two in the second.

I really don't know which of the two I prefer - depends on mood probably. Other masterpieces by Vaughan-Williams that have a place in my long-term canon of much-loved music include A Lark Ascending (1914) and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910).

Vaughan-Williams transports me effortlessly to rural Edwardian England. His music convinces me that great musicians are in touch with eternal insights into the nature of life, and have the gift of being able to communicate it.

This time eight years ago:
Spring scenes in Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Modernist wheels

This time ten years ago:
Mammatus clouds over Jeziorki

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