- Vaughan Williams, Ralph (b Down Ampney, 12 October, 1872 - d London, 26 August, 1958)
- Vaughan Williams studied with Parry, Wood, and Stanford at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge, and then had further lessons with Bruch in Berlin (1897), and Ravel in Paris (1908). It was not until after 1908 that he began to compose in larger forms with confidence, although some of his songs had had success in the early 1900s. His success was ultimately based on his work with folksongs which he had been collecting since 1903; this opened the way to the lyrical freshness of the Housman cycle On Wenlock Edge, and to the modally inflected tonality of the symphonic cycle that began with A Sea Symphony.
He had also gained much experience from editing the English Hymnal in 1906 when he came into contact with earlier English music. The led to the subsequent triumph in his Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis for strings which led Vaughan Williams to a new larger scale form. The new sound he created in the Fantasia, notable for the majestic unrelated consonances, placed him in a powerfully English visionary tradition, and made his association with Blake (in the ballet Job), and Bunyan (in the opera, The Pilgrim's Progress) highly plausible.
Meanwhile, his command of the new form led to his first orchestral symphony, A London Symphony, where characterful detail in worked into the scheme. His first opera, Hugh the Drover, made direct use of folksongs, which was a new turn in his orchestral writing. His study of folksongs facilitated the pastoral tone of The Lark Ascending, for violin and orchestra, and then of the Pastoral Symphony.
At the start of the 1920s he wrote a group of religious works which continued his visionary manner: the unaccompanied Mass in G minor, the Revelation oratorio Sancta civitas, and the 'pastoral episode' The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountain which was later incorporated into The Pilgrim's Progress. The closing years of the 1920s displayed a far wider field of writing including the comedy of the operas Sir John in love (after The Merry wives of Windsor), and The poisoned kiss, and then the angular writing of Satan's music in Job, and of the Fourth Symphony.
The final compositional phase of his life opened with the desolate and pessimistic Sixth Symphony, after which Vaughan Williams found a focus in the natural world for such bleakness when he was asked to compose the music for the film Scott of the Antarctic, which in turn led to the Seventh Symphony (the Sinfonia antartica) whose pitched percussion colouring he used more ebulliently in the Eighth Symphony. His final symphony, the Ninth, returned to the more contemplative world of The Pilgrim's Progress.