Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an outstanding 20th-century composer, and one of a handful of British composers whose achievement ranks equal in genius with that of Henry Purcell. Drawing on the rich treasury of national folk song and dance, he created a uniquely English style that is also universal in its range of appeal.

Many of his most popular works reflect this lifelong interest in the music of the people. The Five English Folk Songs for SATB chorus, for example, and the Six Studies in English Folk Song, have been firmly established in the repertoire of singers and instrumentalists for many years. Another favourite, the Fantasia on Christmas Carols, derived from his reforming work as editor of the English Hymnal. In both A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony, the folk song essence is transformed into visionary, transcendental statements of a kind also found in Toward the Unknown Region, for chorus and orchestra, and the Five Mystical Songs, for solo baritone, chorus and orchestra.

Much influenced by the legacy of the Tudors, Vaughan Williams paid homage to the English Renaissance tradition of viol consort music in his Phantasy Quintet, worthy to stand with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis as emblem of his gift for fusing past and present in a powerfully arresting identity.

First published in 2011, A Cambridge Mass of 1899 is a major score written by Vaughan Williams for the Cambridge degree of Doctor of Music. Lasting 45 minutes, it sets the Credo, Sanctus, Hosanna and Benedictus for SATB soloists, double choir and orchestra, with an orchestral Offertorium. In the words of Michael Kennedy ‘it really is amazingly good, and there are many signs of the great composer who was to emerge.’ Never performed, the work has been edited by Alan Tongue from the composer’s original manuscript preserved at Cambridge University Library. The Bach Choir with the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra gave the world premiere with Alan Tongue conducting at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on March 3, 2011.

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