Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

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The Lark Ascending is not by any means one of RVW’s great works, nor would he have thought so. But it is unique in its post-1918 evocation of a pre-1914 world, and has a fascinatingly hypnotic effect towards the end in a good performance.

It’s had an interesting history on record. Many RVW collectors will have several versions, as it tends to keep cropping up as a filler on discs of his music. But when the famous Bean/Boult version appeared there hadn’t been an available recording for some time. And though it’s justly regarded by many as definitive, Hugh Bean admitted that he didn’t know it and had to ask Boult for time off to learn it.

I think my favourite recording is still the one by Jean Pougnet, though there have been many wonderful digital versions, and Sarah Chang’s is one I admire very much.

It’s an incredibly dark work. Listen to those brooding orchestral clouds, and then that horribly ominous drop of a third at the end. If you listen to it in that context, it has a lot more to keep one’s attention than if one views it as some sort of pastoral idyll. It sets up a curious emotional world – it’s not some simple bucolic romp, but it has a deep elegiac quality, brooding and dark, musing over things gone. In my opinion, the closest work to it in RVW’s output is the Symphony No. 3, which is an elegy for the First World War.

Of course it’s overplayed, on the other hand, it is also very popular, so it is understandable why it gets played so much.

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2 Responses to “Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

  1. The Lark Ascending is one of my favourites. I have had a life long love for Vaughan Williams’ music and have written a book about On Wenlock Edge which is an odd “crossover” first performed in 1909. The First World War had a truly devastating effect on artists and composers of this generation. Vaughan Williams himself lost very close friends in the horror and it is truly amazing that he could write a piece of such lightness and beauty after the war. Thank you for this!

    🙂 Lisa

    http://www.squidoo.com/OnWenlockEdge100YearsOn

  2. Thanks for the comment, Lisa.

    One thinks of poor Ivor Gurney who spent his last years in an asylum.

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