“Ralph Vaughan Williams OM (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958) was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song; this also influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, which began in 1904, many folk song arrangements being set as hymn tunes, in addition to several original compositions.
Vaughan Williams’s music has often been said to be characteristically English, in the same way as that of Gustav Holst, Frederick Delius, George Butterworth, and William Walton. In Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Peter Ackroyd writes, “If that Englishness in music can be encapsulated in words at all, those words would probably be: ostensibly familiar and commonplace, yet deep and mystical as well as lyrical, melodic, melancholic, and nostalgic yet timeless.” Ackroyd quotes music critic John Alexander Fuller Maitland, whose distinctions included editing the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians in the years just before 1911, as having observed that in Vaughan Williams’s style “one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new.”
His style expresses a deep regard for and fascination with folk tunes, the variations upon which can convey the listener from the down-to-earth (which he always tried to remain in his daily life) to the ethereal. Simultaneously the music shows patriotism toward England in the subtlest form, engendered by a feeling for ancient landscapes and a person’s small yet not entirely insignificant place within them. His earlier works sometimes show the influence of Ravel, his teacher for three months in Paris in 1908. Ravel described Vaughan Williams as “the only one of my pupils who does not write my music.””
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