Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872–1958, English composer, considered the outstanding composer of his generation in England. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1894 and studied composition with Parry and Stanford at the Royal College of Music, London, as well as organ and piano with several teachers. Although he also studied abroad with Max Bruch (1897–98) and Ravel (1909), his style remained individual and English. Receiving a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge in 1901, he was appointed organist at Lambeth and his interest in English folk music dates from his stay there. He used the folk idiom first in the orchestral piece The Fen Country (1904), continuing the same style in the three orchestral Norfolk Rhapsodies (1905–7). Elements of English music of the Tudor period interested him and are apparent in his Fantasia for Double Stringed Orchestra on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and in his Mass in G Minor (1923). His full orchestral works include A London Symphony (1914; revised 1920), A Pastoral Symphony (1921), and the Sixth Symphony (1947). Among his many vocal compositions are the song cycles On Wenlock Edge (1909, texts by A. E. Housman) and Five Mystical Songs (1911, texts by George Herbert). In his opera Sir John in Love (1929; based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor), he incorporated the traditional song “Greensleeves,” which he also transformed into various instrumental arrangements. Other operas include Hugh the Drover (1924), Riders to the Sea (1937; from the play by J. M. Synge), and The Pilgrim's Progress (1951; libretto after John Bunyan).


See his National Music (1934) and The Making of Music (1955); biographies by J. Day (1961, rev. ed. 1966), U. V. Williams (1964), and pictorial biography by J. E. Lunn and U. V. Williams (1971); studies by E. S. Schwartz (1964), M. Kennedy (1964, repr. 1971), and H. Ottaway (1972).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vaughan Williams, Ralph


Born Oct. 12, 1872, in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire; died Aug. 26, 1958, in London. British composer and organist; active figure in musical society. Collector and researcher in the field of English musical folklore.

Vaughan Williams was a student of H. Parry and C. Stanford. He was a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music (from 1921) and was a professor of music at several English universities. He was one of the founders of the modern English school of composition—the so-called English musical renaissance—and he affirmed the need to create works based on English musical folklore and the traditions of the old masters of the 16th and 17th centuries (for example, his Three Norfolk Rhapsodies, the opera Hugh the Drover, and Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis). His symphonic and choral works (for example, A London Symphony), in which the use of folk musical art and modern devices of composition are combined, are the most significant of his creations. A large-scale quality of concepts and a tendency toward humanism and patriotism are essential features of Vaughan Williams’ creative work. His principal works include five operas, three ballets, oratorios and cantatas, nine symphonies (1910-58) and other orchestral pieces, instru-mental concerti, chamber works, ensembles, piano and organ works, and choral works. He arranged folk songs and com-posed music for the theater, films, and television.


English Folk-songs. London, 1912.
National Music, 3rd ed. London, 1963.
The Making of Music. Ithaca (N.Y.), 1955. (Russian translation: Stanovlenie muzyki. Moscow, 1961.)


Konen, V.Ral’fVoan Uil’iams. Moscow, 1958.
Kennedy, M. The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. London, 1964.
Vaughan Williams, U. A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams. London, 1964.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.