The Composer Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams (England, 1872-1958) was a 20th Century composer, conductor and collector of English folk music and songs. Together with Percy Deamer, he is the editor of The English Hymnal, a song book that was published in 1906 for the Church of England. Vaughan Williams' collection of folk music influenced several of his own compositions. He is a central figure in British music because of his long career as teacher, lecturer and friend to so many younger composers and conductors. His writings on music remain thought-provoking, particularly his often repeated call for all persons to make their own music, however simple, as long as it is truly their own. His most famous composition is most probably the orchestral Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
The Life of Vaughan Williams
His surname Vaughan Williams is an unhyphenated double-surname of Welsh origin. His great-uncle was Charles Darwin. Vaughan Williams was married twice, first to Adeline Fisher, later to Ursula Wood. He was an intimate lifelong friend of the famous British pianist Harriet Cohen (1895-1967). Vaughan Williams was 41 when World War I began and could have avoided war service. However, he chose to enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Prolonged exposure to gunfire began a process of hearing loss which eventually caused severe deafness in old age.
The Compositions of Vaughan Williams
In 1910, Vaughan Williams had his first big success conducting the premiere of his Symphony No. 1, A Sea Symphony, which is a choral symphony. He enjoyed a still greater success in 1914 with his Symphony No. 2, A London Symphony. His very successful Symphony No. 6 of 1946 received a hundred performances in the first year. Many admirers and critics suggested that especially its last movement was a grim vision of the aftermath of an atomic war. However, Vaughan Williams refused to recognize any program behind his work.
His style expresses a deep fascination with folk tunes through which he carries away his listeners from down-to-earth to the ethereal. Never, his listeners are sure whether they are listening to something very old or to something very new. His music shows patriotism towards England through creating images of the peaceful and typical English landscape, the rolling green hills, wide horizons, moors, shores, deep waters and heavy clouds.
His earlier works sometimes show the influence of Maurice Ravel who was his teacher for 3 months in Paris in 1908. However, Ravel described Vaughan Williams as the only one of his students who did not write music like Ravel.