Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (October 12, 1872 - August 26, 1958) worked in many forms, composing a wide variety of pieces like others we've seen. In addition to church music and hymn tunes, symphonies, operas, chamber works, songs, etc., he also composed scores for British films in the 1940s, something we've not seen yet from other hymnists.

His father was a vicar in the Church of England and Charles Darwin was his great-uncle. He attended the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Charles Villiers Stanford and C.H.H. Parry. He cultivated an interest in English folk songs, and many of his hymn tunes were adaptations of that music. In later years he was elected president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

He was musical editor of The English Hymnal (1906), where many of his early hymn tunes and folk song adaptations appeared. He did not like the tunes of the Victorian composers of the generation before him, and only used those which it was felt could not be left out due to extreme popularity, but they were relegated to the back of the book, nicknamed the "chamber of horrors" by some. More of his tunes appeared in a later hymnal, Songs of Praise (1925).

This familiar tune, DOWN AMPNEY, was named for his birthplace.

Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
'Til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
'Til we become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Bianco di Siena, 15th c.; tr. Richard F. Littledale, 1867; alt.
Tune: DOWN AMPNEY (6.6.11.D.)
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

We will certainly be hearing more of the tunes of Vaughan Williams.

No comments: