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Vaughan Williams on Music by David Manning

ISBN13: 9780195182392

ISBN10: 0195182391

hardback, 456 pages



Experience Classicsonline


2008 has been cause for celebration, not so much because it is fifty years since Vaughan Williams’ death but because the performance annals, literature, recording catalogue, even the video footage about the man and his music has expanded by leaps and bounds.

Various boxed sets of the symphonies have appeared or reappeared. Chandos, working with Richard Hickox, continue steadily to issue works we have not heard before. EMI Classics have produced a whopping 30CD bargain box of pretty much everything that is RVW in their archive and so it continues.

The present invaluable book, painstakingly edited by David Manning, draws together from far and wide a predominantly fresh helping of Vaughan Williams' own writings on music. The disparate essays and asides have been culled from dispersed sources so while you may already know a few of them it is unlikely that you will be familiar with many.

From the book emerges a picture of a composer with piercing insight and the muscular confidence to express himself. He has little time for diplomacy and along the way takes few prisoners. Despite the manufactured image of ‘Uncle Ralph’ he is not all that indulgently avuncular as an author. We learn something of the furies that scream through the Fourth and Sixth symphonies as well as something of seraphic intimacy.

Take his 1902 piece on Good Taste in Music, in which he dismisses the values that measure music against 'taste'. Music written under the urgency of invention is written independent of any such critical apparatus. In the English Hymnal’s Introduction he is happy to drive from the temple those enervating tunes favoured for their simplicity and to replace them with tunes embodying good music. His In Memoriam piece on Gervase Elwes stands back from the facts of the singer’s life and instead concentrates on the enduring qualities of the man's singing - a much more challenging task for the wordsmith. The revival of the music of Weelkes, Byrd and Wilbye by Cecil Sharp and Edmund Fellowes is celebrated. A general theme is England's Music which rises from its folksong, its own history, its own mulch and is no less to be venerated and loved than the musics. His Tovey contribution from 1937 is perhaps rather thin and fragmentary. However what is there is sincere as the composer vividly sets out appraisals and events surrounding Tovey. A December 1939 BBC radio script stresses the significance of music for evacuees and generally the impact of the start of the war. There is another challenging and brave piece from The Listener (1940) in which the composer mentions the possibility that the war may have been unnecessary. It is a passing comment but must have raised hackles in some quarters.

I am unconvinced by having a chapter per piece when this forces whole blank pages for the shorter pieces of writing. A case in point is the gap between chapters 19 and 20 and later on the single sentence entry for Schoenberg. It is an extravagant use of paper when these pieces could have been organised within the five sections (see end of review) as a continuous run.

RVW’s 1954 Howland Medal lecture, given at Harvard, is as transcribed from an audio tape rather than the version in National Music and other essays – to which this book is complementary. The lecture once again records Holst's friendship with RVW as well as cautioning against excessive deference to foreign models suffocating local enterprise. It even pauses for a gentle and surprising swipe at Whitman for his regard for Verdi and Wagner.

We also read a full-on assault on the BBC governors over threats to dumb down The Third Programme. Sadly we are not given the context of this piece in a footnote. In fact this is a weakness of the book’s approach. The same goes for the failure to give any (even pedestrian) background on Gervase Elwes or on Elwes’s RVW performances or recording activities.

In the Continental Composers section VW tackles Strauss's Ein Heldenleben conceding it is 'new, wonderful, astonishing' and he says all of this in 1903 yet then poses the question 'Does it satisfy us?' He is less than direct here. His 1951 contribution to Music and Letters on the death of Schoenberg adopts a different kind of circumlocution: "Schoenberg meant nothing to me - but as he apparently meant a lot to a lot of other people I daresay it is all my own fault." and that's it. There speaks a man pressurised to contribute and defiantly - even punitively - confident of his own judgement.

Manning lists the writings in order of publication spanning 1897 to 1959. The earliest is The Romantic Movement and Its Results and the latest his Introduction to Classic English Folk Songs.

We must be grateful to Mr Manning and the OUP team for securing all the necessary IPR permissions. It must have been a Herculean labour.

While, as with all such anthologies, we meet the composer in words he wished made public - the face that he wanted to present – this sequence still provides surprises, shocks and delights. Here speaks the composer in his own unreconstructed (editors allowing) words written with all the force and risk of contemporary expression. That is as it should be.

Rob Barnett


Table of Contents

Section 1: Musical Life and English Music

1. The Romantic Movement and its Results 2. A School of English Music 3. The Soporific Finale 4. Good Taste 5. A Sermon to Vocalists 6. Preface to The English Hymnal 7. Who Wants the English Composer? 8. British Music 9. Gervase Elwes 10. Introduction to English Music 11. Elizabethan Music and the Modern World 12. Sir Donald Tovey 13. A. H. Fox Strangways, AET. LXXX 14. Making Your Own Music 15. Local Musicians 16. The Composer in Wartime 17. Introduction to News Chronicle Musical Competition Festival for HM Forces 18. First Performances 19. Art and Organization 20. Choral Singing 21. Carthusian Music in the Eighties 22. Howland Medal Lecture 23. Preface to London Symphony 24. Introduction to The Art of Singing 25. Some Reminiscences of the English Hymnal 26. Hands off the Third

Section 2: Continental Composers

27. Palestrina and Beethoven 28. Bach and Schumann 29. The Words of Wagner's Music Dramas 30. Brahms and Tchaikovsky 31. Ein Heldenleben 32. The Romantic in Music: Some Thoughts on Brahms 33. Verdi: A Symposium 34. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) 35. Sibelius at 90: Greatness and Popularity

Section 3: Folk Song

36. Preface to Journal of the Folk Song Society 37. Introduction to Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties 38. English Folk-Songs 39. Folk-Song in Chamber Music 40. Dance Tunes 41. Sailor Shanties 42. How to Sing a Folk-Song 43. The Late Mr. Frank Kidson 44. Lucy Broadwood: An Appreciation 45. Ella Mary Leather 46. Folk-Song 47. Cecil Sharp's Accompaniments 48. Arthur Somervell: June 5th 1866--May 2nd 1937 49. Cecil James Sharp (1859-1924) 50. Traditional Arts in the Twentieth Century 51. The Justification of Folk Song 52. Let us Remember Early Days 53. Preface to Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 54. Lucy Broadwood, 1858-1929 55. Appeal on Behalf of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 56. Preface to Index of English Songs 57. Address to the Fifth Conference of the International Folk Music Council 58. Cecil Sharp: An Appreciation 59. Preface to International Catalogue of Recorded Folk Music 60. Martin Shaw 61. Preface to Folksong-Plainsong 62. The Diamond Jubilee of the Folk Song Society 63. The English Folk Dance and Song Society 64. Introduction to Classic English Folk Songs

Section 4: British Composers

65. Sir Hubert Parry 66. Charles Villiers Stanford, by Some of his Pupils 67. Introductory Talk to Holst Memorial Concert 68. A Note on Gustav Holst 69. Gustav Theodore Holst (1874-1934) 70. Foreword to Eight Concerts of Henry Purcell's Music 71. Gustav Holst: A Great Composer 72. The Teaching of Parry and Stanford 73. Gerald Finzi: 1901-1956 74. Mr Gerald Finzi: A Many-Sided Man 75. Elgar Today

Section 5: Programme Notes on Vaughan Williams's Music

76. Heroic Elegy and Triumphal Epilogue 77. Pan's Anniversary 78. A Sea Symphony 80. A London Symphony 81. A Pastoral Symphony 82. Flos Campi 83. Piano Concerto 84. Fourth Symphony 85. Five Tudor Portraits 86. Sixth Symphony 87. Folk Songs of the Four Seasons 88. Sinfonia Antartica 89. The Pilgrim's Progress 90. Tuba Concerto 91. Violin Sonata 92. Eighth Symphony 93. Ninth Symphony Section 6: Program Notes on the Music of Other Composers 94. Bach Cantatas 95. British Choral Music and DvořŠk Stabat Mater 96. Bach, St Matthew Passion 97. DvořŠk, 'New World' Symphony 98. Elgar, Introduction and Allegro for String Orchestra 99. Gordon Jacob, Passacaglia on a Well-Known Theme 100. Weber, Overture Der Freischutz 101. Brahms, Choruses from the Requiem 102. George Dyson, The Canterbury Pilgrims




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