Magazine article Musical Opinion

Mistress and Muse: Ursula – the Second Mrs Vaughan Williams

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Mistress and Muse: Ursula – the Second Mrs Vaughan Williams

Article excerpt

Mistress and Muse: Ursula - the second Mrs Vaughan Williams A Biography by Janet Tennant Albion Music Limited: hardback, 394pp, ?30.00 ISBN 978-0-9956284-0-3

Ursula Vaughan Williams - as the title explains - was Vaughan Williams's second wife, which she became early in 1953, a short while after the death of his first wife, Adeline, to whom he had been married for over half a century. RVW himself was to die just five-and-a-half years after his second marriage, at the age of 85, but he and Ursula Wood (as she was, when they met) had been romantically intertwined virtually from the day of their first meeting, in London in 1938, after she - an aspiring poetess - had written to the composer out of the blue, asking to meet him.

It would appear that, despite the big difference in their ages (almost forty years) that meeting was virtually love at first sight for both of them. At that time, however, Ursula was married to a Regular Army officer, her father - like that of Elgar's wife - a Major-General.

Wood died during the Second War - not from combat, but from natural causes - after which Ursula became a regular companion to the composer. Adeline had become virtually house-bound; she would appear to have been in no doubt as to the nature of the relationship between her husband and Ursula Wood, to which she apparently lent her tacit understanding.

Although Ursula and RVW were married for a little over five years, they had known each other intimately for almost two decades. Her affect on his creativity was hugely important, not merely in introducing him to, and assisting him in choosing, texts to set to music.

Ursula was a commanding and inherently loveable figure, endearing to her many friends, warm, generous and kind, and full of life. Such a woman (she outlived Ralph by almost 50 years, dying in 2007 at the age of 96) manifestly deserves a biography - and not solely because of her relationship with a great composer. …

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