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Essential Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was born in Gloucestershire to the Reverend Arthur Vaughan Williams and Margaret Wedgwood, whose uncle was Charles Darwin, and whose great-grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood. The family moved to Leith Hill Place in Surrey, and Ralph Vaughan Williams studied at the Royal College of Music and at Trinity College, Cambridge.Read more…

The music of Vaughan Williams is celebrated for being quintessentially English, stemming from his collection and use of English folk song, but as with other composers to whom this description is applied the truth is more nuanced. Whereas Elgar was highly influenced by German models, Vaughan Williams found his musical voice during studies with Ravel in Paris. Vaughan Williams declared: "I learned much from Ravel, for example, that the heavy contrapuntal Teutonic manner was not necessary."

Vaughan Williams was an ambulance driver in the First World War, after which his music took a darker turn in works such as the Fourth Symphony. During the Second World War he helped pianist Myra Hess organise the National Gallery concerts. His music embodies key elements of English style without resorting to pastiche or shallow pastoralism; folk music and the evocative suggestion of landscape and nature are married with structural coherence and subtle colours, resulting in a unique and enduring musical voice. The air of wistful nostalgia detectable in much of his music reflects the composer's temperament: "... in the next world I shan't be doing music, with all the striving and disappointments. I shall be being it."

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