Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

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01A Country Childhood20160404

There's a type of composer who is a biographer's dream: a prodigy, spilling out masterpieces from the nursery, ideally triumphing in the face of an impoverished background, and all cut short by an early death. Ralph Vaughan Williams was none of those. And his story is all the more fascinating for it.

This week Donald Macleod charts the long life and career of this most English composer, the son of a lawyer, educated at home then at Charterhouse, but who also loved watching Mickey Mouse more than anything else at the cinema. We follow him from his childhood, when after six months of piano lessons 'he can't play the simplest thing decently', through to his last years, when even in his 80s he was composing works which still define his reputation.

We meet a man deeply in love with his country and its cultural traditions; collaborator with greats like Elgar and Holst, but who also had a passion for French music and the work of Ravel, who became a trusted teacher and personal friend. We follow him through two world wars, where active service saw him permanently scarred by sights which could never leave his memory. Plus we explore the more intimate side of the composer, who adored his first wife but then forged a new relationship, both personal and musical, after she died.

Fantasia on "Greensleeves"

Margaret Campbell, Colin Lilley, flutes

Audrey Douglas, harp

English String Orchestra

William Boughton, conductor

On Wenlock Edge

Andrew Kennedy, tenor

Dante Quartet

Simon Crawford-Phillips, piano

Symphony No 4, 1st movement

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Paul Daniel, conductor

Toward the Unknown Region - song for chorus and orchestra

Corydon Singers

Corydon Orchestra

Matthew Best, conductor

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Hallé Orchestra

Mark Elder, conductor.

01A Country Childhood20160404

Donald Macleod explores Vaughan Williams's early years, revealing a slow starter.

01A Country Childhood20160404

01Affairs of the Heart2013060320140811

01Affairs of the Heart2013060320140811

Celebrating British Music: It was at a performance of Vaughan Williams's Job at Sadler's Wells that his music first caught the attention of the young drama student and aspiring poet Ursula Wood. Though they didn't meet for another five years, it would be the catalyst to a love affair which lasted until Vaughan Williams's death twenty years later. This week, Donald Macleod focuses on those highly productive later years, touching on Ursula and Ralph's blossoming relationship through the war years. Donald looks at the unusual role Ursula found herself playing in the lives of Ralph and his then wife Adeline, and the all too brief but intensely happy marriage to Ursula for the last five years of Vaughan Williams's life.

01Affairs Of The Heart2013060320140811

Eploring the unusual role a drama student, Ursula Wood, played in Vaughan Williams's life.

Celebrating British Music: It was at a performance of Vaughan Williams's Job at Sadler's Wells that his music first caught the attention of the young drama student and aspiring poet Ursula Wood. Though they didn't meet for another five years, it would be the catalyst to a love affair which lasted until Vaughan Williams's death twenty years later. This week, Donald Macleod focuses on those highly productive later years, touching on Ursula and Ralph's blossoming relationship through the war years. Donald looks at the unusual role Ursula found herself playing in the lives of Ralph and his then wife Adeline, and the all too brief but intensely happy marriage to Ursula for the last five years of Vaughan Williams's life.

01The Stage Works: Who Wants The English Composer?2008082520101101
20120116 (R3)

Donald Macleod on Vaughan Williams's first opera Hugh the Drover.

Despite his fascination with music for the stage from childhood onwards, Vaughan Williams's operas remain a neglected area of his work.

His first opera, Hugh the Drover, was influenced by his folksong collecting of the early 1900s, and the concerns expressed in his 1912 essay 'Who wants the English Composer?'.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

1/5.

Who Wants the English Composer?

Donald Macleod begins a survey of the operas of Vaughan Williams - a neglected area of his work - looking at his first opera, Hugh the Drover, influenced by his folksong collecting of the early 1900s and the concerns expressed in his 1912 essay Who Wants the English Composer?

Linden Lea

Stephen Roberts (baritone)/ Roger Vignoles (piano)

GMNCO110 - Tr 1

The Wasps Overture (excerpt)

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Adrian Boult (conductor)

EMI CDM 7 64020 2 - Tr 6

Hugh the Drover (excerpt from Act 2)

Mary....Rebecca Evans

Hugh the Drover....Bonaventura Bottone

Aunt Jane....Sarah Walker

The Constable....Richard van Allan

John the Butcher....Alan Opie

Corydon Singers

Corydon Orchestra

Matthew Best (conductor)

Hyperion CDA 66901/2 - CD 2 Trs 5-8

London Symphony (excerpt from final mvt) (orig version)

London Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox (conductor)

CHAN 9902 - Tr 5

Donald Macleod explores Vaughan Williams's first opera Hugh the Drover.

Despite his fascination with music for the stage from childhood onwards, Vaughan Williams's operas remain a neglected area of his work. His first opera, Hugh the Drover, was influenced by his folksong collecting of the early 1900s, and the concerns expressed in his 1912 essay 'Who wants the English Composer?'.

02The French Connection20160405

Donald Macleod focuses on Vaughan Williams's fruitful relationship with Maurice Ravel.

02The French Connection20160405

02The French Connection20160405

"I came to the conclusion I was lumpy and stodgy ... and that a little French polish would be of use to me". That marked the beginnings of a relationship which did much to mould Vaughan Williams's talents.

Donald Macleod explores this French connection, seeing the composer develop a fruitful relationship with Maurice Ravel which eventually reached the heights of steak and kidney puddings at London's Waterloo Station.

Plus we follow the composer through his studies at Cambridge where he found only a cautious acceptance of his abilities by his tutors.

The Sky Above the Roof

Susan Bickley, mezzo soprano

Iain Burnside, piano

Overture: The Wasps

Kansas City Symphony

Michael Stern, conductor

5 Mystical Songs: Love Bade Me Welcome

Thomas Allen, baritone

Corydon Singers

English Chamber Orchestra

Matthew Best, conductor

Phantasy Quintet

The Nash Ensemble:

Marianne Thorsen, Elizabeth Wexler, violins

Lawrence Power, Louise Williams, violas

Paul Watkins, cello

Sea Symphony (1st movement: Songs for All Seas, All Ships)

Joan Rodgers, soprano

Christopher Maltman, baritone

Bournemouth Symphony Chorus

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Paul Daniel, conductor.

02The Stage Works - A Vision Of Albion2008082620101102
20120117 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores the appeal to Vaughan Williams of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Donald Macleod charts the course of Vaughan Williams's John Bunyan odyssey, a thread which would weave itself through the whole of his creative life, and would culminate in 1951 with the premiere of his full-scale opera The Pilgrim's Progress. Presented by Donald Macleod

The pastoral episode Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains is a staging post along the course of Vaughan Williams's John Bunyan odyssey, a thread which would weave itself through the whole of his creative life, and would culminate in 1951 with the premiere of his full-scale opera The Pilgrim's Progress.

Presented by Donald Macleod.

Donald Macleod explores the appeal of John Bunyan's book The Pilgrim's Progress to Vaughan Williams, as well as the composer's view that the musical life of a country should be judged by the health of the amateur music being made and his friendship with Holst.

Since I from Love (Merciless Beauty - Chaucer rondels)

Philip Langridge (tenor)

Members of the Endellion String Quartet

EMI CDC 7 47769 2 - Tr 14

Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains

A Pilgrim....Bryn Terfel

First Shepherd....Alan Opie

Second Shepherd....Adrian Thompson

Third Shepherd....Jonathan Best

A Celestial Messenger....John Mark Ainsley

The voice of a bird....Linda Kitchen

Corydon Singers

City of London Sinfonia

Matthew Best (conductor)

Hyperion CDA66569 - Tr 6

Old King Cole (excerpt)

Bradley Creswick (violin)

The Sinfonia Chorus

Northern Sinfonia

Richard Hickox (conductor)

EMI CDC 7 49770 2 - Trs 5-8

Pastoral Symphony (excerpt from 4th mvt)

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Bernard Haitink (conductor)

EMI 5 56564 2 - Tr 4

02War Years2013060420140812

02War Years2013060420140812

Celebrating British Music: By the outbreak of the Second World War, Vaughan Williams was nearly 67 so active service wasn't an option but he was able to do his bit in other ways; he was appointed Chairman of a Home Office Committee looking into the plight of refugees from Nazi Germany. Donald Macleod introduces a concerto whose premiere was delayed because of flying bombs over London, and a string quartet with a prominent role for Vaughan Williams's favourite instrument, the viola.

02War Years2013060420140812

Celebrating British Music: By the outbreak of the Second World War, Vaughan Williams was nearly 67 so active service wasn't an option but he was able to do his bit in other ways. He was appointed Chairman of a Home Office Committee looking into the plight of refugees from Nazi Germany and he also made a musical contribution by providing the soundtrack for a number of propaganda films. Donald Macleod introduces an excerpt from one of his best known film scores, a concerto whose premiere was delayed because of flying bombs over London, and a string quartet with a prominent role for his favourite instrument, the viola.

Donald Macleod reflects on Vaughan Williams's contribution to the effort for World War II.

Celebrating British Music: By the outbreak of the Second World War, Vaughan Williams was nearly 67 so active service wasn't an option but he was able to do his bit in other ways. He was appointed Chairman of a Home Office Committee looking into the plight of refugees from Nazi Germany and he also made a musical contribution by providing the sountrack for a number of propaganda films. Donald Macleod introduces an excerpt from one of his best known film scores, a concerto whose premiere was delayed because of flying bombs over London, and a string quartet with a prominent role for his favourite instrument, the viola.

03An English Composer20160406

We rejoin Vaughan Williams deeply immersed in the music of his home country, giving lectures on national songs from around the British Isles and travelling with his phonograph to gather materials. Alliances are formed with Gustav Holst and Edward Elgar, and we also join the composer in his new London house, complete with a grand attic study and spectacular views over the river and the outsize chimneys of the Lots Road power station.

With Donald Macleod.

Linden Lea

Janet Baker mezzo soprano

Geoffrey Moore piano

In the night-time I have seen you riding (Hugh the Drover, Act 1)

Robert Tear, tenor (Hugh the Drover)

Sheila Armstrong, soprano (Mary the Constable's daughter)

Ambrosian Opera Chorus

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Charles Groves, conductor

A London Symphony (Symphony No 2), 1st movement

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Bernard Haitink, conductor

Mass in G minor: Sanctus & Agnus Dei

Mary Seers, Janet Coxwell sopranos

Michael Chance, countertenor

Philip Salmon, tenor

Jonathan Best, baritone

Corydon Singers

Matthew Best, conductor

Ballad: The Tunning of Elinor Rumming (Five Tudor Portraits)

Robert Bourton, bassoon

London Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox, conductor.

03An English Composer20160406

Donald Macleod on how Vaughan Williams immersed himself in the music of his home country.

03An English Composer20160406

03Post-war Recovery And Festival Of Britain20130605

Donald Macleod introduces two major works completed during the years following the war.

Celebrating British Music: Six years after the war, the Festival of Britain provided a showcase for the very best in British art, design and industry. Vaughan Williams's stage work The Pilgrim's Progress was premiered at Covent Garden as the Royal Opera House's main contribution to the Festival. Donald Macleod presents an excerpt from the work inspired by John Bunyan's allegory which had been a source of fascination for him since he was a child. He also introduces a group of songs written as a test piece for an amateur competition, and the remarkable symphonic masterpiece which reviewers at the time described as a work of "ultimate nihilism".

03The Stage Works - Shakespearean Portraits2008082720101103
20120118 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores Vaughan Williams's works on Elizabethan and Tudor themes.

The experience of working with the RSC on the music for a number of plays in 1913 sowed the seeds for Vaughan Williams's Falstaffian opera Sir John in Love. This, like most of his operas, was first produced by amateurs, as opportunities for an English composer to get an opera performed were almost non-existent in the early 20th century. With Donald Macleod.

Donald Macleod looks at Vaughan Williams's works on Elizabethan and Tudor themes.

Donald Macleod looks at Vaughan Williams's works on Elizabethan and Tudor themes as well as the chequered performance history of his operas.

Was it possible that the composer may have lacked a commercial edge, given that his private wealth meant he could 'indulge his fancy' in writing operas without having to worry if they did badly at the box office? While Sir John in Love had been germinating in his mind since his stint at the RSC as a musical director in 1913, his Five Tudor Portraits were suggested to him by Elgar, who recommended Skelton's verse to him as 'pure jazz'.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

3/5.

The Stage Works - Shakespearean Portraits

Three Elizabethan partsongs: O Mistress Mine

Holst Singers

Stephen Layton (conductor)

Hyperion CDA66777 - Tr 19

Sir John in Love (excerpt from Act 4, Sc 2)

Falstaff....Raimund Herincx

Mrs Ford....Elizabeth Bainbridge

Mrs Page....Felicity Palmer

Anne Page....Wendy Eathorne

John Alldis Choir

New Philharmonia Orchestra

Meredith Davies (conductor)

EMI CMS 5 66 1232 2 - CD2 Trs 24-32

Six Studies in English Folk Song

Paul Watkins (cello)

Ian Brown (piano)

Hyperion CDA 67313 - Trs 2-7

The Tunning of Elinor Rumming (Five Tudor portraits)

Elizabeth Bainbridge (alto)

Bach Choir

David Willcocks (conductor)

EMI CDM 7 64722 2 - Tr 1

04A World at War20160407

War sees the nationalist in Vaughan Williams character come to the fore. He finds and opportunity to serve his country as an ambulance orderly, and later as Director of Music to the First Army of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Harrowing war-time experiences would never leave him, and deeply influenced much of his work.

Plus Donald Macleod explores the composer's strong personal response to another key moment of the early twentieth century, Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, which inspired one of the many successful film scores Vaughan Williams produced.

Main Titles (Scott of the Antarctic)

BBC Philharmonic

Rumon Gamba, conductor

Ice floes (Scott of the Antarctic)

BBC Philharmonic

Rumon Gamba, conductor

Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No 3) (1st movement: molto moderato)

Hallé Orchestra

Mark Elder, director

The Lark Ascending

Tasmin Little, violin

BBC Smyphony Orchestra

Andrew Davis, conductor

String Quartet No 2 (Prelude: Allegro appassionato)

The Nash Ensemble:

Marianne Thorsen, violin

Elizabeth Wexler, violin

Lawrence Power, viola

Paul Watkins, cello.

04A World at War20160407

How harrowing wartime experiences left a deep imprint on Vaughan Williams's work.

04A World at War20160407

04Momentous Events2013060620140814

Donald Macleod introduces music by Vaughan Williams for the Queen's coronation in 1953.

Celebrating British Music: As the most important figure in British music, it was natural Vaughan Williams would be asked to provide some of the music for the coronation in 1953. The same year, the symphony inspired by his most popular film score for Scott of the Antarctic was premiered to great acclaim. Donald Macleod introduces part of that evocative work in which he controversially added a solo soprano and wordless chorus to his orchestral palette, plus two concert works written for unusual solo instruments - the bass tuba and the harmonica.

04The Stage Works - A Masterpiece And A Problem Opera2008082820101104
20120119 (R3)

Donald Macleod focuses on two completely contrasting Vaughan Williams operas.

Donald Macleod continues his survey of the stage works of Vaughan Williams, with an astonishingly bleak and intense one-act opera based on a play by J.M Synge, and a less successful "romantic extravaganza".

Donald Macleod focuses on two contrasting operas.

The tragic one-act opera Riders to the Sea, a setting of Synge's play, is about a tight-knit fishing community in Ireland where the women are left to grieve when all their men-folk have been taken by the sea.

As perhaps the most successful of all Vaughan Williams' operas, it has been called 'the English Pelleas and Melisande'.

The Poisoned Kiss, meanwhile, is a complicated fairy tale.

After more than nine years of wrangling over the libretto with Evelyn Sharp, Vaughan Williams still was not happy with it - significantly it is one of the few works in progress the composer wouldn't show to his great friend, Holst.

With Rue my Heart is Laden (Along the Field)

Ruth Golden (soprano)

Nancy Bean (violin)

Koch 3-7168-2H1 - Tr 26

Riders to the Sea (excerpt)

Maurya....Linda Finnie

Cathleen....Lynne Dawson

Nora....Ingrid Attrot

Northern Sinfonia

Richard Hickox (conductor)

CHAN 9392 - Trs 7-8

The Poisoned Kiss (excerpt from Act 3)

Empress....Anne Collins

Adrian Partington Singers

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

CHAN 10120 - CD 2 Trs 14 to 21

Job (excerpt)

London Symphony Orchestra

Adrian Boult (conductor)

EMI CDM 7 69710 - Trs 7-9

05A Grand Finale20160408

How, aged 81, Vaughan Williams made a deep impression on a woman 40 years his junior.

05A Grand Finale20160408

At the age of 81 a new and highly creative stage of the composer's career is about to begin. Donald Macleod follows the composer has he moves to a grand new house in London and makes a deep impression on a woman 40 years his junior (all thanks to a fetching green pork-pie hat) which will eventually lead to marriage.

Valiant for Truth

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge

Timothy Brown, director

Violin Sonata in A minor (Scherzo)

Marianne Thorsen, violin

Ian Brown, piano

Symphony No 8 (1. Fantasia)

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Adrian Boult, conductor

The Pilgrim's Progress, Act 1, Sc 2 (The House Beautiful)

Gerald Finley, baritone (Pilgrim)

Rebecca Evans, Susan Gritton, sopranos; Pamela Helen Stephen, mezzo-soprano (Shining Ones)

Mark Padmore, tenor (Interpreter)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Richard Hickox, conductor

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

Susan Lynn, violin

Thomas Waddington, cello

Audrey Douglas, harp

English String Orchestra

William Boughton, conductor.

05A Grand Finale20160408

05 LASTThe Final Years2013060720140815

Celebrating British Music: At the age of 80, Vaughan Williams married Ursula Wood. In the five happy years of their marriage, there was no let-up in the composer's productivity, writing two symphonies, more film music and a set of songs for voice and oboe. Donald Macleod introduces those miniature masterpieces set to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, Vaughan Williams's colourful evocation of Tudor England for a documentary film, and his penultimate symphony, full of the exuberance of youth.

05 LASTThe Final Years20130607

Donald Macleod focuses on two major works from the last years of Vaughan Williams's life.

Celebrating British Music: At the age of 80, Vaughan Williams married Ursula Wood. In the five happy years of their marriage, there was no let-up in the composer's productivity, writing two symphonies, more film music and a set of songs for voice and oboe. Donald Macleod introduces those miniature masterpieces set to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, Vaughan Williams's colourful evocation of Tudor England for a documentary film, and his penultimate symphony, full of the exuberance of youth.

05 LASTThe Stage Works - The Labour Of A Lifetime2008082920101105

Donald Macleod looks at Vaughan Williams during the Second World War, including his work on what became obsession throughout his life - his musical treatment of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

Tired: Simon Keenlyside (baritone)

Graham Johnson (piano)

Naxos 8.557114 - Tr 5

Epithalamion (excerpt)

Stephen Roberts (baritone)

The Bach Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra

David Willcocks (conductor)

EMI CDC 7 47769 2 - Tr 8-11

The lake in the mountains

Ian Brown (piano)

Hyperion CDA67313 - Tr 1

Fifth symphony (excerpt from 2nd mvt)

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Davis (conductor)

Warner 2564 61730-2 CD 3 - Tr 7

Pilgrim's Progress (excerpt from Act 2, Sc 2)

The Pilgrim....John Noble

Apollyon....Robert Lloyd

London Philharmonic Choir

Adrian Boult (conductor)

EMI CMS 7642122 CD 1

Donald Macleod looks at Vaughan Williams during World War II, including Pilgrim's Progress

Donald Macleod looks at the Vaughan Williams's experiences during the Second World War, and his work on what became an ide fixe throughout his life, his musical treatment of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.