VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Job / The Lark Ascending

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Ralph Vaughan Williams(1872-1958)

Job, A Masquefor Dancing

The Lark Ascending

Ralph Vaughan Williamsbelonged to a time of burgeoning cultural, aesthetic and spiritual diversity,to a generation embracing Debussy, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, Scriabin, Rachmaninov,Schoenberg, Ives, Ravel, Falla, Respighi, Medtner, Bartok, Stravinsky andSzymanowski. His years spanned two world wars, the history of England's sunsetfrom Empire to Commonwealth. Musical revolution, the New German School of Lisztand Wagner; Stockhausen, Boulez and the Darmstadt radicals, framed his life. Inthe succession of major Anglo-Saxon composers, he imposingly commanded the highground between Elgar and Britten, facing "the doubts and portents of atragic age" where his predecessor had "proudly" summed up"the glories of the Victorian century" (Bernard Shore). He has beencalled "the apotheosis of Englishness", "the fountainhead of the... English national school", a man ''as English as Morley andPurcell". In 1931, the year of Job at the ISCM Festival, AaronCopland, fresh from Brooklyn, jazz and Nadia Boulanger, arrogantly wrote himoff as "the kind of local composer who stands for something great in themusical development of his own country but whose actual musical contributioncannot bear exportation... His is the music of a gentleman farmer, noble ininspiration but dull". Fifteen years later, the critic Scott Goddard wasto say: "There is no aspect of life foreign to him, none beyond the reachof his art; and that art, which is the most individual in the history of[British] music since Purcell, has reached a width of reference and a depth ofcomment never attained by musicians bred here... Nothing can be saidconclusively about the workings of mind so protean and still magnificentlyactive". The "corpus of Vaughan Williams's work will speak togenerations of Englishmen of a great Englishman's ranging thoughts, his love ofthe homely countryside, his piety, his inherited poetry, his adventurous mindand lofty ideals" (Shore, 1949).

A Victorianclergyman's son from Brahmsian Gloucestershire, Vaughan William was a master ofwords no less than sounds. He believed that music was to be heard, not so muchread or spoken about. "In our imperfect existence what means have we ofreaching out to that which is beyond the senses but through those very senses?Would Ulysses have been obliged to be lashed to the mast if the sirens insteadof singing to him had shown him a printed score? When the trumpet sounding thecharge rouses the soldier to frenzy, does anyone suggest that it would havejust the same effect if he took a surreptitious glance at Military Soundsand Signals?" (Music & Letters, April 1920). In his book NationalMusic (published in 1934 from lectures given two years previously) he arguedthat fundamentally all music was a matter of nationality, and thereforenationalistic. Ruling states had identities and dialects as individual and"narrowly" circumscribed as those of their satellites. "Nationalmusic is not necessarily folk-song; on the other hand folk-song is, by nature,necessarily national". Music, he believed, was "the only means ofartistic expression which is natural to everybody. Music is above all thingsthe art of the common man ... the art of the humble... Music cannot be treatedlike cigars or wine, as a mere commodity. It has its spiritual value as well.

It shares in preserving the identity of soul of the individual and of thenation". "The great men of music close periods; they do notinaugurate them," he wrote famously. "The pioneer work, the findingof new paths, is left to smaller men... I would define genius as the right manin the right place at the right time ...we shall never know of the number of'mute and inglorious Miltons' who failed because the place and time were notready for them. Was not Purcell a genius born before his time? Was not Sullivana jewel in the wrong setting?... As long as composers persist in serving up atsecond-hand the externals of the music of other nations," he concludedfamously, "they must not be surprised if audiences prefer the real Brahms,the real Wagner, the real Debussy, or the real Stravinsky to their palereflections. What a composer has to do is to find out the real message he hasto convey to the community and say it directly and without equivocation... if theroots of your art are firmly planted in your own soil and that soil hasanything individual to give you, you may still gain the whole world and notlose your own souls". Such was his creed.

Proceeding, in placeseven anticipating, the violent Fourth Symphony, Job, A Masque for Dancing (1927-30),to a scenario by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, dates from the period between the operas SirJohn in Love (Shakespeare) and Riders to the Sea (Synge). Ascompelling in the concert-hall (symphonically) as the theatre (dramatically),it has been claimed that "it marks the emergence of English ballet,allowing it at a crucial moment to free itself from imitative influence"(Michael Kennedy, 1964). Central to its biblical inspiration were William Blake'stwenty-one watercolours for the Book of Job (1820-26), the paintings ofBotticelli and Rubens, images and quotations from the Old Testament story, theEnglish Restoration masque tradition (earlier explored in On ChristmasNight, 1926), and characteristic Elizabethan and Jacobean dance types - thesarabande, minuet (stylistically "formal, statuesque and slightlyvoluptuous," VW imagined), pavane and galliard. "In Job," Kennedysummarises, "Vaughan Williams found satisfaction in translating Blake'sdrawings into sound; he was not at all concerned with their symbolism ... Job'spastoral life, Satan's machinations, and Heaven are clearly defined in music.

Blake's pictures combine eloquence with simplicity. So does the music ... aperfect reconciliation of the various elements in [the composer's] style: thelyrical ('pastoral') side, the folk-dance rhythms, the aggressive 20th centuryharmonies [and syncopations - illustrative of Satan and Hell] the Purcelliandiatonic splendour of a great tune [visions of 'Heaven and the throne ofGod']".

The concert versionwas first heard on 23rd October 1930 in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, as part ofthe Norwich Festival, with the Queen's Hall Orchestra under the composer.

Conducted by Constant Lambert, the stage premi?¿re, presented by the CarmargoSociety at the Cambridge Theatre, London, 5th July 1931, had scenery andcostumes by Gwendolen Raverat, wigs and masks by the dancer Hedley Briggs, andchoreography by Ninette de Valois. Following a (forgotten) independent performancein New York, 25th August 1931, the Sadler's Wells Ballet company brought theircelebrated Covent Garden production to America, 2nd November 1949, at theMetropolitan Opera, New York, with Robert Helpmann in the r??le of Satan createdoriginally by Anton Dolin. By then the first gramophone recording of the workhad already been made (produced by Walter Legge for HMV in March 1946 at theAbbey Road Studios), with Sir Adrian Boult, the dedicatee, conducting the BBCSymphony Orchestra. It was Boult who had been responsible for introducing theconcert version to America before and after the War - in the summer of 1939with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia Park, and in January 1946 withthe Boston Symphony.

The endurance of faithover affliction, "this drama of heaven and hell" (Richard Capell), Jobdivides into nine heavily-mimed scenes, scored for forces includingsaxophone, organ and a large percussion bat
Item number 8553955
Barcode 730099495523
Release date 12/01/1999
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Greed, David
Greed, David
Composers Vaughan Williams, Ralph
Vaughan Williams, Ralph
Conductors Lloyd-Jones, David
Lloyd-Jones, David
Orchestras English Northern Philharmonia
English Northern Philharmonia
Disc: 1
The Lark Ascending
1 Scene I: Introduction - Pastoral Dance - Satan's A
2 Scene II: Satan's Dance Of Triumph
3 Scene III: Minuet Of The Sons Of Job And Their Wiv
4 Scene IV: Job's Dream. Dance of Plague, Pestilence
5 Scen V: Dance Of The Messengers
6 Scene VI: Dance Of Job's Comforters. Job's Curse.
7 Scen VII: Elihu's Dance Of Youth And Beauty. Pavan
8 Scene VIII: Galliard Of The Sons Of Morning. Altar
9 Scene IX: Epilogue
10 The Lark Ascending
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