Vaughan Williams, Ralph

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872–1958, English composer, considered the outstanding composer of his generation in England. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1894 and studied composition with Parry and Stanford at the Royal College of Music, London, as well as organ and piano with several teachers. Although he also studied abroad with Max Bruch (1897–98) and Ravel (1909), his style remained individual and English. Receiving a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge in 1901, he was appointed organist at Lambeth and his interest in English folk music dates from his stay there. He used the folk idiom first in the orchestral piece The Fen Country (1904), continuing the same style in the three orchestral Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905–7). Elements of English music of the Tudor period interested him and are apparent in his Fantasia for Double Stringed Orchestra on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and in his Mass in G Minor (1923). His full orchestral works include A London Symphony (1914; revised 1920), A Pastoral Symphony (1921), and the Sixth Symphony (1947). Among his many vocal compositions are the song cycles On Wenlock Edge (1909, texts by A. E. Housman) and Five Mystical Songs (1911, texts by George Herbert). In his opera Sir John in Love (1929; based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor), he incorporated the traditional song "Greensleeves," which he also transformed into various instrumental arrangements. Other operas include Hugh the Drover (1924), Riders to the Sea (1937; from the play by J. M. Synge), and The Pilgrim's Progress (1951; libretto after John Bunyan).

See his National Music (1934) and The Making of Music (1955); biographies by J. Day (1961, rev. ed. 1966), U. V. Williams (1964), and pictorial biography by J. E. Lunn and U. V. Williams (1971); studies by E. S. Schwartz (1964), M. Kennedy (1964, repr. 1971), and H. Ottaway (1972).

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