Friday, September 10, 2010

Well Here goes

Well here goes. The first selection is from Ralph Vaughn Williams from a tape I got from a Salt Lake City Library Sale. The have these sales to get rid of old stock or duplicates in books. It sends my collecting hormones into ecstasy when these events happen. I haven’t been in years because I tend to overload and just don’t have any more room. Ralph Vaughn Williams is one of my favorite composers

The first piece on the tape is called Dona Nobis Pacem and was written for the centennial of the Huddersfield Choral Society I remember first hearing the Huddersfield Choir in Mr. Renshaw’s class at Leigh Street Elementary School in Hyde Cheshire England on the Radio. That year I was introduced to classical music by BBC broadcasts. My first love was the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky and subsequently my dad took me to Free Trade Hall in Manchester to hear the Halle Orchestra under the direction of Sir John Barbirolli play the piece. I can remember sitting in the right balcony facing the stage and being just enthralled by the players.

Anyway back to Dona Nobis Pacem, it is a plea for peace and I can understand why Mr. Williams wrote this. At 41 years of age he volunteered for World War I as a private in the Royal Medical Corp and was a stretcher bearer during the bloodiest fighting of the War. My maternal grandfather served in the same war as part of the Royal Engineering Corp and had to crawl through mud to fix or clear the Barbed wire fences. He was shot once by a piece of shrapnel but he was saved by a medal he had. As a child of ten my grandmother showed me the piece of shrapnel that hit my grandfather and the bent medal that saved his life.

The piece follows through six different parts 1. Agnus Dei 2. Beat! Beat! Drums!, 3. Reconciliation, 4. Dirge for Two Veterans, 5. The Angel of Death and 6. O Man Greatly Beloved

Vaughan Williams was 64 years old when he wrote Dona Nobis Pacem; however, the images of war remained vivid in his memory of the close-quarter violence that he had witnessed when serving (1914-18) in France during World War I. He in fact compiled the text of Dona Nobis Pacem as a scrapbook of quotations [scriptures, mass, Whitman] relevant to all that he had seen about the senseless violence of war.

Dona Nobis Pacem in fact was intended as a warning at a time when Europe was moving toward another major war. It is a work of enormous passion, overtly honest, thrilling, uplifting, yet filled with Vaughan Williams’s depth of feeling for the futility of war. Three contrasting Whitman poems are framed by words from the Latin Mass, the Old Testament prophets, and the famous House of Commons speech made during the Crimean War by John Bright.

Whitman poetry held a deep fascination for British composers in the closing years of the 19th century. Vaughan Williams was introduced to Whitman as an undergraduate at Trinity College in 1892. “I’ve never got over him, I’m glad to say,” writes the composer in 1958, at age 85. It is from Whitman’s famous American Civil War poem, Drum Taps, that Vaughan Williams draws his vivid portrayal of war, and these poems in alternation with his poignant settings of the Agnus Dei, the speech by John Bright, of an excerpt from Luke, and the Old Testament readings of Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah and the Psalms, inspire a deeply felt, vivid, touching and profoundly moving setting for Dona Nobis Pacem.

Vaughan Williams was the foremost English composer of the first half of the 20th century. Dona Nobis Pacem in style, form and substance with its intermingling of liturgical texts and poems on war anticipates by 20 years Britten’s War Requiem. In it we see Vaughan Williams’s eclectic compositional style: French, modal, folk, and that of his close friend Gustav Holst. English folk song and hymnody, contrapuntal works of Bach and Handel, harmonies of Debussy and Ravel, and modal Renaissance polyphony (especially of Tallis and Byrd) underpin his highly communicative style of writing.

His works reflect his philosophy: “A composer must not shut himself up and think about art, he must live with his fellows and make his art an expression of the whole life of the community (the whole community of English-speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic).” More than 1,000 choral works dot the landscape of Vaughan Williams’s oeuvre as well as nine symphonies, songs, opera, and marvelous settings of folk songs and hymns that he loved so well.

As I listen to this piece and think of the wars we are still involved in and we still do not acknowledge the awfulness of the thought of the effects of war on out people. To Paraphrase Pete Seeger “when will we ever learn?” Williams use of the Civil War poetry of Whitman and Parliamentary Speeches about the Crimean war both seem to illustrate the futility of hoping for peace.

The Next pieces are Five Mystical Songs for Baritone and chorus 1, Easter, 2. I got me flowers, 3. Love bades me welcome, 4. The Call, and 5. Antiphon.

They are the text of poems that were written by a Welsh Anglican Priest George Herbert in 1633.

The piece ends in such a wonderful chorus praising “My God and King.” Even the Dona Nobis Pacem resolves to hope in the creation of Ralph Vaughn Williams.

1 comment:

  1. How come I did not know that about grandad? You need to start to writing down stuff like this for me: family stuff