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Analysis of Vaughan Williams Songs

Updated on December 5, 2014

New Book About On Wenlock Edge

Have you ever heard any of Vaughan Williams' music? Have you heard On Wenlock Edge? This little known work by Vaughan Williams is a masterpiece! I published a book about Ralph Vaughan Williams and his songwriting including an analysis of On Wenlock Edge. The book - On Wenlock Edge 100 Years On - is the result of a lifetime love of Vaughan Williams music, particularly the songs, and is my own personal celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first performance of On Wenlock Edge.

When written, On Wenlock Edge was both radical and adventurous and still sounds glorious to those who love the art of classical song. In England his music is still under copyright, not in the public domain, and although available legally in the USA, Canada and Australia, permission was needed to quote music examples in the EU.

The book is now available through my Lulu store. This lens gives further information about it. It also gives you examples of Vaughan Williams' music that you can listen to, courtesy of Amazon, and if you are looking for individual pieces of sheet music - or recordings not on the MP3 player - you can find them through the Amazon search module further down the page. I hope you enjoy the lens and thank you for visiting.

The lens image is the cover for my book about Vaughan Williams, On Wenlock Edge 100 Years On

From the Vaughan Williams Society

Vaughan Williams is arguably the greatest composer Britain has seen since the days of Henry Purcell. In a long and extensive career, he composed music notable for its power, nobility and expressiveness, representing, perhaps, the essence of 'Englishness'.

Buy On Wenlock Edge - 100 Years On - Book is now available in the US and Canada....

One question I am repeatedly asked is "is the vagabond by vaughan williams in the public domain" or "is Linden Lea by vaughan williams in the public domain". The answer is no. In Europe, seventy years has to pass after the composers death before his music is in the public domain. Up until that point, feee downloads are strictly speaking illegal. I had to pay a fee to Boosey and Hawkes even to quote his music in my book. Now the book is available everything being ready including the all important go ahead from Boosey and Hawkes, copyright holders for the music of On Wenlock Edge itself! Visit the link below to browse or buy.

On Wenlock Edge - 100 Years On

A study of the songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams written to celebrate the centennial of the first performance of Vaughan Williams' masterpiece, On Wenlock Edge, in the Aeolian Hall, London, by tenor Gervase Elwes and the Schwiller Quartet with Frederick Kiddle (piano) 0n 15th November 1909.

Vaughan Williams Sheet Music For Sale - Buy Vaughan Williams Sheet Music Here

The Tallis Fantasia - Power, Nobility and Timelessness....

.... and an expressiveness that is indeed the essence of Englishness!

White In The Moon - A Song for Tenor and Piano

This is one of my own compositions which I hope someday a real tenor will perform. It was influenced by On Wenlock Edge. I sung it myself and it is at the extreme of my range but this gives it a ghostly quality and a turbulent feel....

Ralph Vaughan Williams - A short biography....

Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams

(12 October 1872 - 26 August 1958)

Vaughan Williams was born in Down Ampney, an English Cotswold village. He was related to Charles Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood amongst others and came from a privileged background. His politics were always egalitarian however.

As a boy, he attended Charterhouse School, and Trinity College, Cambridge. Later he became a pupil of Stanford and Parry at the Royal College of Music. His earlier works sometimes show a little of the influence of Ravel, who taught him for three months in Paris in 1908. Ravel however described Vaughan Williams as "the only one of my pupils who does not write my music." He also studied with Max Bruch in Berlin.

Like Cecil Sharp, his interest in English folksong led him to travel the countryside listening, recording and notating traditional songs for future generations. Some of these tunes made it into The English Hymnal which he edited. Later he also helped edit The Oxford Book of Carols. He composed world-wide favourite hymns such as For all the Saints and Come down O love Divine. His vocal music is beautiful and something I have enjoyed all my life.

Vaughan Williams served as a volunteer in the Field Ambulance Service in Flanders for the 1914-1918 war, during which he was profoundly affected by the carnage and the tragic loss of friends like composer George Butterworth. This experience left him bitterly atheist for much of his life and is reflected in the darker music he wrote during later life, such as his symphonies. There is something gloriously and profoundly sacred in his music however. I first fell in love with his Tallis Fantasia at the age of 8. This is the one piece of music that brought me to a lifelong love of Vaughan Williams. To this day it transports me into a kind of tingly sanctity beyond time and space itself which makes me feel that even on those occasions when we can't believe in God, God somehow believes in us!

He was a close friend of composer Gustav Holst. Later he became professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in London (ironic considering his fondness for using consecutives 5th and 8ves). In his lifetime, Vaughan Williams rejected all formal honours except the Order of Merit which was conferred upon him in 1938. He died in August 1958 and his ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, near Henry Purcell.

In a long and productive life, music literally flowed from his pen. This included nine symphonies, five operas, film music, ballet and stage music, several song cycles, church music and works for chorus and orchestra.

On Wenlock Edge - 100 Years On

A study of the songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams written to celebrate the centennial of the first performance of Vaughan Williams' masterpiece, On Wenlock Edge, in the Aeolian Hall, London, by tenor Gervase Elwes and the Schwiller Quartet with Frederick Kiddle (piano) 0n 15th November 1909.

On Wenlock Edge 100 Years On

Vaughan Williams Songs

A complete listing of songs other than choral and sacred music

Vaughan Williams songs I studied as a student:

"Linden Lea", song (1901)

The House of Life, six sonnets by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, set to music (1904)

Songs of Travel (1904)

"The Sky Above The Roof" (1908)

On Wenlock Edge, song cycle for tenor, piano and string quartet (1909)

Along the Field, for tenor and violin

Three Poems by Walt Whitman for baritone and piano (1920)

Four Poems by Fredegond Shove: for baritone and piano (1922)

Four Hymns (1914)

Merciless Beauty for tenor, two violins, and cello

Four Last Songs to poems of Ursula Vaughan Williams

Ten Blake songs, song cycle for high voice and oboe (1957)

Sample some of the songs below....

These modules quote the poems by A.E.Housman which were set to music by Vaughan Williams in his song cycle "On Wenlock Edge". You can listen to a little of each song in the MP3 modules. My hope is that it will inspire you to listen further, maybe even buy the MP3s or - best of all for me - buy my book so you can find out more about Vaughan Williams' beautiful songs....

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Sacred Songs For Sale - Sacred Classical Music by Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams wrote a lot of sacred choral music, although his own beliefs were shaken to the core by the Great War. Here are a few examples of his sacred classical music....

On Wenlock Edge (From "A Shropshire Lad")

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble

His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger

When Uricon the city stood:

'Tis the old wind in the old anger,

But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman

At yonder heaving hill would stare:

The blood that warms an English yeoman,

The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,

Through him the gale of life blew high;

The tree of man was never quiet:

Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:

To-day the Roman and his trouble

Are ashes under Uricon.


by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

In valleys of springs and rivers,

By Ony and Teme and Clun,

The country for easy livers,

The quietest under the sun,

We still had sorrows to lighten,

One could not be always glad,

And lads knew trouble at Knighton

When I was a Knighton lad.

By bridges that Thames runs under,

In London, the town built ill,

'Tis sure small matter for wonder

If sorrow is with one still.

And if as a lad grows older

The troubles he bears are more,

He carries his griefs on a shoulder

That handselled them long before.

Where shall one halt to deliver

This luggage I'd lief set down?

Not Thames, not Teme is the river,

Nor London nor Knighton the town:

'Tis a long way further than Knighton,

A quieter place than Clun,

Where doomsday may thunder and lighten

And little 'twill matter to one.

From Far, From Eve and Morning

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

From far, from eve and morning

And yon twelve-winded sky,

The stuff of life to knit me

Blew hither: here am I.

Now - for a breath I tarry

Nor yet disperse apart -

Take my hand quick and tell me,

What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;

How shall I help you, say;

Ere to the wind's twelve quarters

I take my endless way.

Is My Team Ploughing

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

"Is my team ploughing,

That I was used to drive

And hear the harness jingle

When I was man alive?"

Ay, the horses trample,

The harness jingles now;

No change though you lie under

The land you used to plough.

"Is football playing

Along the river shore,

With lads to chase the leather,

Now I stand up no more?"

Ay, the ball is flying,

The lads play heart and soul;

The goal stands up, the keeper

Stands up to keep the goal.

"Is my girl happy,

That I thought hard to leave,

And has she tired of weeping

As she lies down at eve?"

Ay, she lies down lightly,

She lies not down to weep:

Your girl is well contented.

Be still, my lad, and sleep.

"Is my friend hearty,

Now I am thin and pine,

And has he found to sleep in

A better bed than mine?"

Yes, lad, I lie easy,

I lie as lads would choose;

I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,

Never ask me whose.

Is My Team Ploughing? - The football controversy....

I have quoted the full text of this version, but Vaughan Williams caused a storm by omitting these two verses:

"Is football playing

Along the river shore,

With lads to chase the leather,

Now I stand up no more?"

Ay, the ball is flying,

The lads play heart and soul;

The goal stands up, the keeper

Stands up to keep the goal.

The reason? He didn't think football was a fitting subject for a poem....

Is My Team Ploughing - The George Butterworth setting

Here Benjamin Luxon sings the George Butterworth version which does include the missing verses. Tragically Butterworth, a friend of Vaughan Williams and a tremendously talented young composer, was killed in the First World War.

Contemporaries of Vaughan Williams - More of that lyrical English sound.....

Butterworth is well known to singers, Parry to fans of church and choral music, and Bridge to fans of dramatic tenor songs in the English tradition. All well worth a listen.

On Wenlock Edge - the sheet music

I am grateful to Boosey and Hawkes, Stainer and Bell and Oxford University Press for the permission granted to quote from Vaughan Williams songs in my book. If you are a singer and I have raised some interest, here is a link to the score. It is not an affiliate link, but never mind - they deserve it for being nice to me!

Oh, when I was in love with you

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Oh, when I was in love with you,

Then I was clean and brave,

And miles around the wonder grew

How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,

And nothing will remain,

And miles around they'll say that I

Am quite myself again.

Bredon Hill

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

In summertime on Bredon

The bells they sound so clear;

Round both the shires they ring them

In steeples far and near,

A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning

My love and I would lie,

And see the coloured counties,

And hear the larks so high

About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her

In valleys miles away;

"Come all to church, good people;

Good people come and pray."

But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer

Among the springing thyme,

"Oh, peal upon our wedding,

And we will hear the chime,

And come to church in time."

But when the snows at Christmas

On Bredon top were strown,

My love rose up so early

And stole out unbeknown

And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,

Groom there was none to see,

The mourners followed after,

And so to church went she,

And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon,

And still the steeples hum,

"Come all to church, good people."

O noisy bells, be dumb;

I hear you, I will come.

Bredon Hill

Here's your chance to hear some of this dramatic setting!

Ralph Vaughan Williams books

Either of these books would be a treasure to lovers of Vaughan Williams' music. A selection of biography and musical criticism.

Operas by Ralph Vaughan Williams

An opera is more than just a collection of songs of course. It has action and dialogue too. Vaughan Williams wrote several operas over his lifetime. Here is a list of them:

Hugh the Drover (otherwise known as Love in the Stocks) (1910-20).This is a Romantic opera in ballad style. The libretto is by Harold Child.

Sir John in Love (1924-28), this includes an arrangement by "Ralph Greaves" of Fantasia on "Greensleeves"

The Poisoned Kiss was written between 1927-29. Vaughan Williams made revisions in 1936-37 and later in 1956-57. The libretto was written by Evelyn Sharp but later amended by the composer and his wife Ursula Vaughan Williams who was herself a poet.

Riders to the Sea (1925-32). This was based on a play by John Millington Synge.

The Pilgrim's Progress (1909-51), which seems to have taken a lifetime to finish, was based on John Bunyan's allegory.

Ralph Vaughan Williams also wrote The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains (1921). He wrote the libretto himself, based on John Bunyan. Later this was incorporated into The Pilgrim's Progress except for the final section.

Free Vaughan Williams sheet music

Is it actually legal?

There have been one or two queries under "free sheet music downloads". I don't think that Vaughan Williams' music is prohibitively priced, but I also appreciate that students can be very short of money so I am writing this advisory paragraph.

The first thing to remember is that all of Vaughan Williams' music is still under copyright in Europe and the UK although it is public domain in the USA and Canada. It may be possible to track down some US arrangements on the sibelius music site. Use the search engine they provide. There might be free or cheap arrangements, although the legality is dubious.

Secondly, why not sign up to It is a site powered by Yahoo where people advertise stuff they no longer need. Sometimes clearing out a relative's house might turn up a pile of old sheet music. Putting it on Ebay is costly and time consuming so it may just be given away!

Thirdly, your local library will have access to sheet music and score which you can borrow for free. Tracking them down might cost pennies. Hiring parts for a performance supports the composer's charity set up to promote musicians.

I hope you find this useful for ideas.

Or simply, did you enjoy this page? I look forward to reading your comments about Vaughan Williams and On Wenlock Edge. If you enjoyed my page, please share it with a friend too! Thank you for reading!

© 2009 Lisa Marie Gabriel


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