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Ralph Vaughan Williams

(1872—1958) composer and folk-song collector


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(1872–1958)

British composer, musician, and teacher. A prominent composer of the first half of the twentieth century, he founded a new nationalist movement in English music. He was admitted to the OM in 1935.

The son of a Gloucestershire clergyman, Vaughan Williams studied with Sir Hubert Parry (1841–1903) and Sir Charles Stanford (1852–1924) at the Royal College of Music, at Trinity College, Cambridge, with Bruch in Berlin (1897), and with Ravel in Paris (1908). Like his close friend Gustav Holst, he became interested in English music of the Tudor period and began to collect folksongs (1903), from which he later derived much material. From 1904 to 1906 he was musical editor of the English Hymnal; in this period he also started on the first of his nine symphonies, A Sea Symphony (1903–09), which was based upon the poems of Walt Whitman. His distinctive modal style found its first full expression, however, in Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis (1910), in which he broke decisively with the prevalent German academic tradition.

After war service, he was appointed professor of composition at the Royal College of Music (1919) and continued to compose in a wide variety of moods and forms. Subsequent symphonies included the evocative Pastoral Symphony (1922) and the Sinfonia Antartica (1952), based on his score for the film Scott of the Antarctic. Among many other notable works were the operas The Pilgrim's Progress (1951) and Sir John in Love (1929), the ballets Old King Cole (1923) and Job (1931), several concertos, and many songs and smaller pieces. Large-scale choral works, such as the mass in G minor (1922), the oratorio Sancta Civitas (1926), and the cantata Hodie (1954), also formed a significant part of his achievement.

Subjects: Music.


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