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Vaughan Williams Society

There was a Time…Ralph Vaughan Williams - A pictorial journey from the collection of Ursula Vaughan Williams

Edited by: Stephen Connock, Ursula Vaughan Williams and Robin Wells

Albion Music Ltd (a division of the RVW Society) hardback; 152 pages

ISBN 0-9528706-4-9 £25


This new volume competes, non-too-well, it has to be said, with OUP’s splendid Ralph Vaughan Williamsa pictorial biography first published in 1971 and now, I understand, sadly, out of print. That OUP publication, slightly larger than the 8½ inches square new volume, was the work of John E. Lunn and Ursula Vaughan Williams.

In the new Albion Music book, there is a misleading claim that it has a collection of largely unpublished photographs. The fact is that too many pictures, to justify such a claim, already appeared in the earlier OUP volume. Furthermore some of the pictures are so badly reproduced as to be virtually unrecognisable: notably the lower portrait of Walt Whitman on page 23, then, on the following page, the image of Bloomsbury Square (scene of the lovely slow movement of RVW’s A London Symphony) is disappointing, likewise the picture on page 27 of a communication trench at Neuville is virtually unrecognisable as anything, the production still from Riders to the Sea on page 46 is almost coal black, and there is no excuse for such a poor reproduction of the well-known picture of Arnold Bax and Harriet Cohen on page 41. I could go on quoting more examples of slipshod reproduction throughout the volume. There are one or two pictures puzzlingly out of sequence – e.g. Ralph’s mother in 1917 shown on page 75 alongside other pictures of RVW in the 1950s. As might be expected there is an abundance of photographs of the composer in the latter years of his life.

On the positive side, the new volume includes a very useful time-line showing the major biographical events and completed compositions, year-by-year. It is interesting to note from this timeline, for instance, that RVW’s sister Margaret (Meggie) founded the Leith Hill Festival It is true that the new book has a number of unfamiliar but interesting and insightful family pictures, particularly from RVW’s early years (of Meggie and his first wife Adeline for example). There is a substantial section at the end ‘Friends and Family’ that does contain some previously unpublished pictures. There are, for instance, two pictures of RVW with Roy Douglas another with the cellist Piatigorsky (1957), one of him with Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith (again from 1957), together with pictures with Leopold Stokowski, Frederick Grinke, Leslie Woodgate and Herbert Howells, and Lionel Tertis. There is also a large picture, taken at the Royal Opera House in 1923, of Holst with Eugene Goossens, Anthony Bernard and Percy Pitt; and the book ends, quite fittingly, with a picture, from 1972, of Ursula Vaughan Williams and Sir Arthur Bliss standing outside 10 Hanover Terrace, RVW’s London home of his final years.

A valuable addition to the RVW bibliography but owners of the earlier RVW picture book, published by OUP, should hesitate and weigh up its extra value before buying. It has to be said that this new volume disappoints somewhat considering that it is published by the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society.

Ian Lace


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