In addition to pop music of various kinds, I’m putting selected classical works on my iPod, and my first choice for this was some of the work of my favorite composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Incidentally, his first name is pronounced the old English way as “Rafe,” and both Vaughan and Williams are last names, he has two.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of the work of this quintessentially British composer, actively composing and presenting works from about 1900 to 1958. My high school choir did a few of his choral pieces, so that was probably it. I wasn’t in the choir in high school (something I now regret), but had several close friends who were, so I went to all their concerts and that fostered a lifelong love of choral music in general. RVW, as I’ll call him from now on, composed some fine choral music, but is better known for his orchestral works, including nine symphonies, and many concertos, songs, operas, and so on. His work is not often performed live, since it’s still copyrighted and requires royalty payments, but it’s well-recorded. I think I began exploring that in the early 70s, via library albums and purchases. My favorite versions of many of his works are the ones conducted by Sir Adrian Boult with English orchestras, though many other versions are also quite good.
Here’s a fine recording you can sample on iTunes or Amazon which includes two of his best shorter orchestral works: the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and The Lark Ascending. Both are well worth a listen, I’ve linked to mp3s below. RVW’s music is lush, romantic, and often mystical. He drew inspiration from English hymns, from whence the Tallis comes, and English folk songs, many of which he heard personally sung by traditional singers in the countryside when he and his friends would go out with early recording devices to capture them, saving some songs from being lost forever, as those traditional songs were being replaced by the pop music of the time. “Dives and Lazarus” above is one of those, but they turn up throughout his work. Some of his works are more harsh and dissonant, inspired by the two world wars he lived through, but those are the minority.
So, while I own nearly everything RVW wrote that’s been recorded, these are the works I’ve put on my iPod for now, creating a solid body of eight hours of great listening:
This Chandos 2-disc set has lots of fine music, including favorite Flos Campi. I’ve used all of it.
Another Chandos 2-disc set contains many of his concertos, including great ones for string orchestra, for oboe, and for tuba. I’ve used all of it as well.
For the symphonies, I’ve used #2 “London,” #5 (no nickname) and #7 “Antarctica.” Those are my favorites, with #5 probably at the top.
For vocal/choral I’ll probably add more later, but for now I’ve loaded On Wenlock Edge, a song cycle and Five Mystical Songs for soloist and chorus. Then a few other short orchestral works: In The Fen Country, and Norfolk Rhapsody #1.
RVW’s music is perhaps an acquired taste, but if you have any interest in classical music and are not familiar with his work, give it a try. Especially if you’re an Anglophile like me. I once put together a slide show of my favorite photos taken in England, and the “Tallis” was the perfect soundtrack.
Here are some Amazon links: