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Exclusive CD • Foreword by Sir Andrew Davis CBE • Essential listening


A 150th anniversary celebration of the man and his music

This O cial th Anniversary Publication includes: Exclusive CD with 26

tracks of recommended recordings In-depth features on the man and his music Reflections from leading interpreters Listening guide to key recordings



1872 – 1958

1872 – 1958


‘Miniature gems’

Vaughan Williams crafted art songs with all the intimacy and finesse of a Fabergé egg. Three singers and an accompanist share their thoughts with Adrian Horsewood about what makes these works so special

For many, Ralph Vaughan Williams occupies prime position in the pantheon of English art-song composers; there can be scarcely a singer or enthusiast who does not know ‘Silent Noon’, ‘Linden Lea’,

or ‘The Vagabond’. But as with so many other aspects to Vaughan Williams’s life and music, delving past the bestknown songs reveals hidden layers and threads that run the whole length of the composer’s career.

RVW is ‘the beating heart of the English song canon’, according to tenor Nicky Spence, fresh from recording On

Wenlock Edge for the Hyperion label (release date: April

2022): ‘I’ve sung his music for as long as I can remember, and it’s always been a staple of my repertoire. What I love is that when you get down to working on them you realise that there is real depth there, so much more than just the image of the tweed-wearing, pastoral composer that we all know.’

For baritone Roderick Williams, whose RVW discography is perhaps the most extensive of any currently active singer, his love for the songs sprang from his long association with another part of the composer’s output: ‘I first got to know Vaughan Williams’s music through

Roderick Williams, who has an extensive discography of RVW songs, was introduced to the genre ‘by stealth’ through the choral works


Like m thoug writes

RVW and the Bard

RLike many composers, Vaughan Williams was inspired by the works of Shakespeare, though the craft of writing incidental music to plays was a skill he learned on the job, writes Stephen Connock



ha vie he 1998. Vaug a child whe Darwin. He Wives of Wi He began se including So He went on t with a librett of Windsor, t r,r from the last Thanksgiving Overall, VW music to the p hakespeare was the best friend he had’. This was the view of Ursula Vaughan Williams when discussing her late husband’s love of the playwright and poet in 1998. Vaughan Williams had first discovered Shakespeare as a child when he was given the complete edition by Caroline Darwin. He re-read all the plays in 1951, counting The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II and Henry V as his favourites. He began setting Shakespeare’s words to music in the 1890s, including Sonnet 71 and ‘O Mistress Mine’ from Twelfth Night. He went on to compose Sir John in Love (completed in 1928) with a libretto by the composer based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, the lovely Serenade to Music (1938) with lines from the last act of The Merchant of Venice, and the Song of Thanksgiving (1945) which included extracts from Henry V. Overall, VWwas to set Shakespeare’s texts, or write incidental music to the plays, over 20 times throughout his long career. Shakespeare also seems to have influenced the remarkable final movement of the Sixth Symphony (1947), in part an

Shakespear final moveme



evocation in sound of the ‘cloud-capp’d towers’ in The Tempest, as well as reflecting in music: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ VW responded to the compassion, the insight, the humour and the nobility of Shakespeare. He also recognised that Shakespeare was thoroughly musical, a writer who thought deeply about music. VW took Shakespeare’s many references to English folk-ballads as supporting his own ‘national’ approach to music: ‘Shakespeare makes an international appeal for the very reason that he is so national and English in his outlook,’ he wrote in December 1944.

Against this background, VWwas excited at the invitation by Archibald Flower on behalf of (Sir) Frank Benson to conduct the orchestra as well as write and arrange incidental music to a number of Shakespeare plays for the August 1912 and April-May 1913 seasons at Stratford. Benson (1858-1939) was an actor-manager who founded his own company in the spring of 1883, managing the Stratford Shakespearean Festival

The statue of Stratford-upon-Avon’s famous playwright William Shakespeare towers over that of one of his best-known characters, Henry V– a favourite of RVW


A th anniversary celebration

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