The Music of England: Ralph Vaughan Williams

June 27, 2007 at 6:28 pm (Anglophilia, Eloquence, Music)

This excerpt from the Times review of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams was written on the occasion of the piece’s premiere in 1910. It is quoted in the liner notes of a compact disc featuring Vaughan Williams’s works for string orchestra (Nimbus NIM 5019):

“The work is wonderful because it seems to lift one into some unknown region of musical thought and feeling…one is never sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new. The voices of the old church musicians are around one, and yet their music is enriched with all that modern art has done, since Debussy, too, is somewhere in the picture. It cannot be assigned to a time or a school, but it is full of visions.”

This commentary is from the notes in Gramaphone’s Classical Good CD Guide (2002). The writer describes the Tallis Fantasia as a piece “…whose majestic unrelated consonances provided a new sound and a new way into large-scale form. The sound, with its sense of natural objects seen in a transfigured light, placed Vaughan Williams in a powerfully English visionary tradition…”

The Fantasia received its premiere at the Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral; it was written specifically to fill the acoustic of that vast interior space. You can, however, play it on the CD player in your bedroom (as I have just done) and still be astonished by its otherworldy magic.

rvwcat.jpg Ralph Vaughan Williams
in 1942, with his favorite cat Foxy.

gloucester_2.jpg The interior of Gloucester Cathedral. For more images, click on Hintermeister – Gloucester Cathedral


1 Comment

  1. Randal Keynes, his book, and its multiplicity of titles – and now, the film « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] is an excerpt from Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The video was made with loving care, as befits its subject. Look carefully at the album cover at […]

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