Saturday, August 16, 2014

Symphony guide: Vaughan Williams's A Pastoral Symphony

Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams … Vindicating his personal vision.

“It’s really wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night in the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset. It’s not really lambkins frisking at all, as most people take for granted.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams was talking about one of his most controversial and misunderstood pieces, A Pastoral Symphony, his third, which he completed in 1922. It’s easy to see where the confusion comes from: here is that master of nostalgic evocation calling a piece “pastoral”, immediately asking audiences to hear it – you’d have thought – as the acme of all things quaintly, gently rustic, the sound of an imagined idyll of English landscape turned into sound. More