Saturday, 17 August 2013

A London Symphony

This evening Thomas and I listened to the London Symphony by Vaughan Williams (mostly to console ourselves after watching our favourite cricket team Surrey loose in the county T20 final). If you thought he was mostly a composer of 'pastorale' music then think again!

I then found this amazing youtube version embellished by the most stunning paintings of the old city - especially apt as his music is just like a painting but with sounds. It's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Uv4lJsu0Jw - if you're not especially into this sort of music just think of it as film music and you'll get along fine (but it is far better than any film score I can think of)!

Some of my favourite bits are:

The extremely quiet and brooding opening showing a misty daybreak over the city, RVW described it as “all that mighty heart lying still”. Especially goose-bumps for me is the harp depicting Big Ben's chimes (at about 2:50). But it is a movement of great contrasts - watch out for the rude awaking at 3.20 and suddenly London is “alive with the noise and scurry of street traffic – hansom cabs and most likely the occasional motor.” but more contrast with the delicious passage for just harp and solo strings at 8:35.

Perhaps my favourite movement though is the slow movement which starts at exactly 14:00. Vaughan Williams composed it just before the first world war and is made all the more poignant in that his friend and fellow composer George Butterworth described this movement as “an idyll of grey skies and secluded byways — an aspect of London quite as familiar as any other: the feeling of the music is remote, mystical.” a few years later Butterworth died in the trenches of France in 1916. Thomas commented on another favourite 'hairs standing up on back of neck moment' a magical rising fourth in the French Horn from 16:15 (and other places eg 18:20). The French horn has a lovely rather distant sound and the rising note is made all the more effective as the bass gently drops down (a 5th) in the opposite direction, a bit like a musical sigh. I also love the occasional quoted street cries e.g. 'who will buy my sweet red roses' at 21:10.

Vaughan Williams said of the third movement (from 24:45): “If the hearer will imagine standing on the Westminster Embankment at night, the distant sounds of the Strand with its hotels on one side and the ‘New Cut’ on the other, it may serve as a mood in which to listen.”. Can you hear the sound of the buskers playing apparently a harmonica and accordion (imitated by muted horn and strings)?

The final movement is full of many colours and moods. It starts with a short and rather alarming even desperate passage but then goes into a fabulous march but then you get some of the music from first movement and to be honest I struggled to un-pick or find out much about it except that RVW refers to a passage from an H.G. Wells novel 'Tono-Bungay': “To run down the Thames is to run one’s hand over the pages in the book of England …There come first the stretches of mean homes... the dingy industrialism of the South Side and on the North Bank the polite long front of nice houses, artistic, literary, administrative people’s residences, that stretches from Cheyne Walk nearly to Westminster... We tear into the great spaces of the future and the turbines fall to talking in unfamiliar tongues. Out to the open sea we go, to windy freedom and trackless ways. Light after light goes down. England and the kingdom, Britain and the Empire, the old prides and the old devotions glide abeam, astern, sink down upon the horizon... The river passes – London passes – England passes.”

8 comments:

  1. One of the less known facts about SW Gale is a fondness for the music Vaughan Williams. So redolent of our beautiful countryside, of by-gone ways and terribly soothing.

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  2. Dear Jerry, I've got to listen to music, this evening, because I made the post. Your words will help me to understand something I do not know at all.
    I'll let you know later how I feel after listening!

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    1. Hope you enjoy it but of course you must be honest - music is such a personal thing and what one person likes another may not be so keen :)

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  3. Thank you so much for the you-tube link Jerry. Have been listening to it whilst having a late lunch and it has certainly calmed me down after getting uptight about the badger cull again!!!

    Sorry I omitted to comment on your last post but well done on your tv appearance and I will add your new blog to My Blog List. Your harps are so beautiful and such a work of art :)

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    1. Yes RR don't get me on that topic - what a disaster but I'm glad you liked the music! Thanks for your kind comments about the harps too - it was a bit of fun and it's always good to get some nice publicity.

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  4. What an amazing acheivement to combine the beautiful paintings of London with the music by Ralph Williams. It was a delightful and exciting experience, and I was completely absorbed in their beaty. Thank you Jerry:)

    I must have had a senior moment the last time I visited, as I thought I was commenting on your latest post!!:))

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    1. Thanks for looking in Sonjia and I'm so glad you like this link. Yes the artwork matches the music superbly!

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