COMPOSED BY

Ralph Vaughan Williams (October 1872 – August 1958) in 1914

DURATION

Approximately 15 minutes

Instrumentation

Solo violin, 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, triangle, and strings.

SUMMARY OF THE COMPOSITION

The Lark Ascending is a single-movement Romance for solo violin and orchestra inspired by the poem of the same name by George Meredith. It was originally composed for violin and piano and completed in 1914, but not performed until 1920 due to the First World War. After the war, it was revised for solo violin and orchestra and premiered in 1921 by violinist Marie Hall.

1

About the Composition

The work begins with a two-bar introduction by woodwinds and muted strings, setting up a hazy yet shimmering stage for the solo violin’s arresting unaccompanied cadenza, which is to be played freely without adhering to strict metre, and introduction of a new melody with which the orchestra re-enters as the solo violin continues. The work embodies poetry, sublime tone, evocative expression, and possibly everything one loves about the English countryside. The voice of the solo violin represents that of the lark and Meredith’s poem, from which its twelve lines are written at the head of the score:

2

The Poem

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of man links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

WHO IS ... RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS?

Suprising fun facts

  • Vaughan Williams was still composing great music at the age of 70, as he moved into a new genre of film music.
  • One of his teachers of composition did not believe he would become a composer. He was one of a handful of composers who wrote a Romance for solo harmonica (which remains as a non-standard orchestral instrument until today), string orchestra and opera
  • He and Gustav Holst, whom he shared a close friendship with since meeting at the Royal College of Music, often provided constructive criticism to each other’s work in progress.

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