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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Come On England

My son, Tom, popped into the office last night. Vaughan Williams Symphony No.3 - the Pastoral - happened to be playing. It was a recording with Sir Adrian Boult conducting, picked up off the latest edition of the BBC Music magazine, about which I'd been tipped off earlier in the day by a pal on Twitter.

After a particularly bucolic passage during the second movement, I asked him what the music brought to mind for him.

He listened intently for a minute and then said “Lots of pictures of the countryside.”
“Any country in particular?” I asked.

“England” he said without a moments hesitation.

“Green fields, old trees, cottages. Like the kind of thing you see in old black and white films where the camera looks over hills and up to the sky.”

It's a source of endless fascination to me the way in which Vaughan Williams' music captures and distils a sense of landscape and its essence.




13 comments:

CBQ said...

Memo to self to listen to VW's 3rd.

Cheers Sid

Sid Smith said...

Hey Mr.CBQ, I've just added the second movement to the page here. Not the Boult recording but the Naxos one which happened to be on the hard drive.

Martin said...

You are absolutely right. This fascinates me to no end. There is a profound connection between Vaughan Williams music and the English landscape. As it happens just this morning I've finished a Dutch landscape (http://naturamoderna.blogspot.com/2010/06/polder-study.html) listening to Vaughan Williams Symphony Nr 5. Endlessly repeating part 3 Romanza: lento. I love to paint while listening to his music but it works best with the lovely English landscape I think.

Sid Smith said...

What a gorgeous painting Martin - I really like all your landscapes. Always very intense. And you've just prompted me to put on RVW's 5th symphony which is no bad thing.

Willy said...

Try his 'Six Studies in English Folksong' for clarinet and piano! That'll put a bustle in your hedgerow!

Sid Smith said...

Blimey, you're right about that Chris! Quite beautiful.

Tim Sokell said...

Very true Sid. I've been listening to The Lark Ascending pretty much non stop since your hat tip.

belewhale said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this musical piece! Thank you so very much Sid for sharing it with us all.... : )

Sid Smith said...

Hey Tim, The Lark Ascending is such a gorgeous piece. I've got several different versions and I'm astounded how it be so different on each one yet still tap into the same emotional place every time.

Sid Smith said...

Hello Wendy, very glad you enjoyed this movement from RVW's 3rd symphony. Tell your friends!

Ilkka said...

I'm no expert on classical music but I agree. Everytime I hear Williams' music, the first thing that comes to mind is English countryside. And I've seen English countryside only on tv.

Jan said...

Everyone here sees England and its green pastures, yet much of it waqs written in France during World War 1 when RVW served as a stretcher bearer. The haunting wordless song at the end was inspired, we're told, by a French girl singing. "Cows looking over an English meadow on a peaceful summer afternoon"? Or a lament for a way of life shattered brutally for ever, and for lost friends? In the slow movement, the natural trumpet call - "bugles calling for them from sad shires"? And the third movement an echo of "The lads in their hundreds"?

"A requiem for Pan" as one writer put it? Yes, I too share that it says something about England, about what us who we are. But with RVW, you can never be sure there is not his own very personal, and often heart-breaking, story in there as well. And the more enigmatic the music, the less he said, the more flippant he could be.

Sid Smith said...

Hello Jan, thanks for taking the time to drop in. Having read Michael Kennedy's book & more recently Simon Heffer's brief but insightful exploration into RVW's life and work, I know you're 100% right about the background to the piece - particularly this movement with its famous misheard quotation of the Last Post, definitely a poignant reminder of the trenches which RVW had seen at first hand.

However, it remains the case that my son - and perhaps others here - with no knowledge of the music's context or backstory, unerringly located this music in a particular time and place.

I think there's something powerful in that.

This of course does not take away from your point that this remains music informed and mediated by huge, catastrophic events.

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