Ralph Vaughan Williams

1972-58 British

Education and influences:

  • classical - Royal Academy of Music Charles Stanford and Trinity College Hubert Parry ('Jerusalem' 1916)
  • impressionism - studied with Maurice Ravel in Paris and Debussy
  • folk (which was dying) - first to travel with Butterworth into the countryside to collect folk songs, studied it and liked English music of Tudor Period - enabled him to incorporate modal elements and rhythmic freedom into a deeply personal and English musical style
  • setting poems - Shakesphere, Bunyan, Blake and Walt Whitman 
  • setting A.E.Housman's poems - had volunteered in 1914-18 and the loss of his close friends (e.g. Butterworth) deeply affected him, so composing about the war seemed appropriate.
  • friendship with Gustav Holst ('The Planets') who influenced his music - Holst himself was influenced by English folksong revival and Ravel (impressionism)

wrote 'On Wenlock Edge' 1909 (early in his career) - 6 of Housman's poems are set from 'A Shropshire Lad' written 1896 -  they describe rural life and nostalgic sense of lost innocence (1,3,5 are our set works) - Housman reluctant to let him set it - 1st work to bring VW wide attention

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Butterworth ('Butterworth No.27')

1885-1916 British

Best known for the orchestral idyll ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ AND his song settings of A.E. Housman’s poems from ‘A Shropshire Lad’’ e.g. 'The lads in their hundreds'

  • Singer = James Campbell McInnes
  • Piano = Butterworth

Died in the Great War - seen as a parallel to his music setting of Housman's gloomy poems e.g. the song ‘The lads in their hundreds’ tells of young men who leave their homeland to ‘die in their glory and never be old’.

Based his short orchestral works on folksongs he had collected in Sussex in 1907 e.g. ‘Two English Idylls’ (1911) and ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ (1913)

Influences: friends with Cecil Sharp (folk song collector), Vaughan Williams, Hugh Allen (Director of the Royal College of Music) and Adrian Boult (baritone and future conductor)

Vaughan Williams – travelled with him to English countryside to collect folk songs, Butterworth collected over 450 himself sometimes using a phonograph, as close friends Butterworth suggested Vaughan turn a symphonic poem into his ‘London Symphony’. He began but the manuscript was lost due to it being sent to Germany. Butterworth, Geoffrey Toye and Edward J. Dent helped Vaughan Williams reconstruct it, and Williams dedicated the piece to Butterworth’s memory after his death.

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Other compositions

Worked as musical editor of ‘The English Hymnal’ and composed several hymn tunes that remain popular e.g. ‘For all the Saints’ and ‘Come down O love Divine’.

Covered most musical genres e.g. 9 symphonies, concertos for piano, violin, oboe, tuba, 5 operas, chamber, ballet, film music, a large body of songs, song cycles, various unaccompanied works and orchestral choral works.

e.g. 3 ‘Norfolk Rhapsodies’ were his first works to show his bringing folk songs into a distinctive melodic and harmonic style.

e.g. 9 symphonies cover a vast expressive range – ‘A London Symphony’ of 1914

e.g. stage works – ‘Job’ of 1931 showing his serious and mystical side

e.g. ‘Hugh the Drover’ of 1924 – ballad opera stemming from his folk song interest

e.g. setting to poems – ‘Five Mystical Songs’ of 1911 set to poems of George Herbert

e.g. 'The Lark Ascending' of 1914 - solo violin and orchestra 

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breaking ties with continental Europe

for 2 centuries ties with Europe had made Britain a virtually musical province of Germany through e.g. Handel, Mendelssohn and lesser German composers

many remained with the Continental tradition e.g. Elgar, Parry, Stanford etc.

BUT he AND other nationalist composers sought to break away from the German Romantic style e.g. Mussorgsky (Russian), Smetana (Czech) and Manuel de Falla (Spanish) 

what influences did he look toward to replace German Romanticism;

  • English folk song - where country people sang traditional songs that had been passed from generation to generation performed at home unaccompanied. This style was beginning to die out in the 20th century when Williams became interested in it and travelled round the countryside collecting songs. MODALITY is a feature of folk.
  • Tudor Church music - a kind of English choral tradition. Composers of this include Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. MODALITY is also a feature of this.
  • French impressionism - composers such as Ravel and Debussy. This can be heard in his parallelism and tremolo use.
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Song cycle

= group/cycle of individually complete songs designed to be performed in a sequence.

For solo voice OR an ensemble OR rarely a combination of solo songs with choral pieces.

Similar to a song collection, but different through how its derived from the text or from musical procedures.

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German Lieder Song Cycles

Most European countries began developing the art song genre by the 19th century BUT the rise of the German Lieder Song Cycles outweighed song cycles of any other nationality. This style shifted from Strophic form in the 18th century to more traditional folk songs which were to the 19th century setting of more sophisticated poetry for a more educated middle class.

E.g. 1816 – Beethoven’s ‘An die ferne Geliebte’ (Op.98) [earl example of German song cycle]

E.g. 1823 – Schubert’s ‘Die schone Mullerin’ [established the genre of German song cycles] – this set the poems by Wilhelm Muller [RESEARCH SPECIFICALLY SCHUMANN]

E.g. 1840 – Schumann’s ‘Kerner Lieder’ (Op.35) on poems by Justinus Kerner [RESEARCH SPECIFICALLY SCHUMANN]

Other composers included Brahms, Mahler, Wolf etc.

E.g. 20th century example – Schoenberg’s ‘Das Buch der hangenden Garten’

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non-German song cycles

There were also French, American, Scottish, English song cycles

E.g. Sullivan’s ‘The Song of the Wrens’ (1871) [1st English song cycle] – to the text of 11 poems by Tennyson

E.g. Vaughan Williams’ ‘The House of Life’ (early 20th century) on sonnets by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

E.g. Britten’s ‘Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo’ among many of his great song cycles

E.g. MacMillan’s ‘Raising Sparks’ (1997) [example of a Scottish song cycle]

E.g. Bernstein’s ‘Songfest’ (1977) [example of an American song cycle]

Popular music – tell a story of focus on a particular theme with new feature of sometimes blending tracks together E.g. Marvin Gaye’s classic soul album ‘What’s Going On’ (1971)

Musical Theatre e.g. ‘December Songs’ by Maury Yeston (1991)

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'On Wenlock Edge' music influenced by

didn't completely abandon system of major-minor tonality used by his 18th/19th century predecessors like some European composers were doing e.g. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) BUT also didn't limit himself to traditional tonality 

influenced by music from outside the dominant Germanic tradition;

  • traditional English folk music
  • music of Tudor England 
  • Debussy
  • Maurice Ravel

other influences;

  • some vocal melodies that resemble folk song
  • use of modes (ancestors of major and minor scales)
  • false relations
  • parallel movement between parts, sometimes involving perfect 5ths, of the kind banned in Bach chorale harmonisation
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SONORITY general

tenor - players must keep with the singer , has flexibility for rhythmic freedom, in particular at intense moments e.g. 'colla voce' 

string quartet: tremolo, rapid repetition of notes, alternation between notes, long trills, sul ponticello, con sord, double stopping, 97th/9th/11th chords, natural harmonics, pizz. cello

piano - not easy but not virtuosic, not in manner of piano concerto, RH contains most harmonies used in strings, LH doubles cello

effects of piano: tremolo, demisemiquaver flourishes, full textures, large chords, parallel 4th chords chains, sustained chords by pedal, block chords, trills, una corda, tre corda, ostinato acc, rapid arpeggios, swaying consecutive 4ths

piano quintet - Brahms and Schumann wrote many of these in 19th century 

UNUSUAL to put piano quintet with solo voice 

ALSO a solo piano part is provided in the absence of the string quartet

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Varied to reflect changing chracter of the text


  • opening forte - forboding storm
  • 'gale' and 'trouble' forte 
  • frequent use of crescendo and diminuendo - match gale's ferocity

  • extremely quiet 
  • quietness suggests remoteness of the ghost 


  • extremely quiet - PPP bar 20
  • quietness suggests remoteness of the far-off steeples OR death e.g. stanza 5
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TEXTURE general



1 mainly

2 mainly

3 mainly

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blend of strophic and through-composed 

suggested by development of the text

1  A-A-B-B-A/B

2  AB-AB-A1B1 (modified strophic with 3 pairs of verses - doesn't use Housman's v3+v4)

3  intro-A-A-B-B1-C-D-A1-postlude (7 verses)

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TONALITY general


  • G minor
  • major-minor ambiguity as no Bb or B to suggest if its modal Gmajor or Gminor 
  • BUT Fnatural suggests Gminor 
  • voice outlines pentatonic GADCF
  • bitonal effect with Ab major 
  • ends Gminor firmly 


  • Dorian mode OR in D minor with Dorian inflections - dead man
  • D minor (not modal) - live man + some chromaticism
  • Dorian in interlude
  • inconclusive Eb major stanza 6


  • blurred tonality throughout - dissonant Abs 
  • G - tonal centre BUT some seem closer to E minor / Aminor 
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MELODY tenor voice

  • range of a 12th
  • not virtuosic
  • occasional high notes at points of tension e.g. top A 'dead' in 2
  • syllabic
  • accentuation of syllables is masterfully done (to achieve natural rhythms of speech)
  • frequent use of anacrusis to fit iambic nature of poetry e.g. start of 3
  • some short melisma for emphasis e.g. 'happy' in 3 
  • some slurred pairs of notes
  • stepwise movement
  • small leaps
  • larger leaps for intense moments 
  • recitative style e.g. sings freely over static chords in 2 AND complete freedom in 3 as long as he's finished before final instrumental section AND shifts from duple to triple patterns (folk)
  • modal style and simple (due to folk influence) e.g. restricted note range of 4 pitches in line 1 of 1 before use of F on 'Wrekin' (pentatonic outline)
  • repeated notes e.g. 'gale' in 1 

(instruments are freer in use of large intervals) (MASSIVE WORDPAINTING IN VOCAL)

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HARMONY general

used chords that were common well before 20th century BUT used them in different ways e.g. contrary motion is a pre-20th century device AND INSTEAD he used parallelism (influence of Debussy)

parallel chords e.g. 6/4 OR 4ths OR 8ves

false relation

superimposed minor 7th chords

minor 5/3

quartel harmony 

pentatonic scale

more old-fashioned chromatic harmony in 'Is My Team Ploughing'

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rhythm of tenor keeps with stress patterns of text


  • 4/4  
  • syncopation
  • active rhythm for storm ; tremolo / trills / short notes 


  • many tempo changes for text shape ; slower for dead man, faster for live man 
  • many metre changes for text shape
  • rhythm flexibility ; dotted rhythms / quavers / triplet quavers / offbeat crotchets 


  • many tempo changes for situation of text
  • 2/2 until b84
  • 4/4 for rest
  • lots of rhythmic interest 
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SONORITY 'Bredon Hill'

tenor + string quartet + piano

  • stanzas 3 and 4 = piano only
  • stanza 5 = largely strings

full piano textures;

  • piano homophonic bare and still block chords + simple octaves in strings  - bells  (ppp-distance)
  • bar 20-30 - large chords (extremely quiet) + chains of parallel 4ths - all sustained/blurred by pedal 
  • bar 100-113 - RH melody doubled at 4th + at 8ve above AND LH alternates between low block chords + high 8ves
  • bar 105 - octave legato melody in bass (leaps in LH)

string quartet features;

  • con sord (1-115) - to suggest distance in time and geography and hazy summertime + pianissimo at start
  • double stopping 
  • 7th / 9th / 11th chords
  • sul D (violin 1 + viola) AND sul G (violin 11 + cello) - rich and powerful 
  • natural harmonics (114-5) (bells)
  • arco and pizz. at end (bells)
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STRUCTURE 'Bredon Hill'

Intoduction (1-24) very quiet superimposed 7th chords

Stanza 1/theme g (24-35) simple folksong-like melody sung freely over static chords

Interlude (35-38) harmonically different version of bars 5-8

Stanza 2 (39-48) tenor similiar to stanza 1 + active acc

Interlude (48-51) same as 5-8

Stanza 3 (52-66) big contrast - unity kept through melody similiar to stanza 1

Stanza 4 + postlude (66-83) quiet low version of stanza 3 vocal + end of intro-like postlude 

Stanza 5 (84-100) darkens as melody circle sround G then Bb + slow chords + rests acc

Stanza 6 (100-114) repeated G ('one bell'), melody like stanza 5

Stanza 7 (114-135) vocal from stanza 1+2 + loud hectic passages acc, music calms

Postlude and Repetition (136-146) like 8-14, unacc simple 'I will come' on G

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TONALITY 'Bredon Hill'

blurred throughout 

superimposed 7th chords used

deliberate conflicts involving dissonant Abs 

G as tonal centre;

  • rarely absent
  • stanza 1+2 melody clearly in G throough pentatonic scale / Fnatural from Mixolydian mode on G / Bb+Fnatural from Aeolian mode on G

some ambiguity;

  • closer to E minor e.g. 1-51
  • OR closer to A minor 
  • because of strong emphasis on Eminor and Aminor 7th chords

more chromatic in middle of song 

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HARMONY 'Bredon Hill'

superimposed 7th chords: (7th chords dominate)

  • series of long min7th chords at start
  • parallel 6/4 in strings (10-14)
  • parallel 4ths in piano (16)
  • occasional 2nd inversion 7th chords (29)

parallel 8ves divided into 5th+4th/4th+5th in piano (represent bells) - played over 7th chords with some conflicting pitches

mixture of 6ths / 5ths / 4ths (using pentatonic set D-E-F#-A-B) (bar 64 onwards)

other parallelism e.g. successions of perfect 4ths + 5ths 

11th chords (52) [- impressionism]

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2/2 (until 84)

3/2 (bar 71 wordsetting)

4/4 (84-114) slower tempo


4/4 (123) in preparation for 'Piu lento' (127)

a lot of rhythmic interest:

  • INTRO - tied semibreves (bells) to minims to crotchets to triplet crotchets to quavers (piano)
  • triplet crotchets (piano) for stanza 3+4 bells
  • quavers (piano)
  • syncopated accompaniment ......
  • (127-132) free vocal 'irrespective of the acc' + ostinato-based acc 'in strict time' - for clangour of bells 
  • (134-5) 'notated rallentando' = beat remains same as semis change to triplet quavers to quavers to triplet crotchets to minims 
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SONORITY 'Is My Team Ploughing'

tenor + string quartet + piano 

  • begins with 3 high strings
  • stanza 2 - piano + cello

con sordino most of the time - mystery and distance (dead man) BUT fortissimo indicates that mute is for tone not dynamics

'una corda' 

'tre corde' (9)

'colla voce' (50)

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STRUCTURE 'Is My Team Ploughing'

INTRO/theme d (1-4) modal violin I circling round A

Stanza 1 (5-9) taking ideas from intro

Stanza 2/ theme e + f  (9-19) cello chromatic descent + tenor 

Interlude (19-22) like 1-4 + G in cello

Stanza 3 (23-27) music of stanza 1 BUT new text

Stanza 4 (27-37) music of stanza 2 + no high notes and gentler tone on 'your girl'

Interlude (37-38) short agitated version 8ve higher of intro + tremolos/forte/pizz. cello

Stanza 5 (39-44) agitated dead man, begins 4th higher than in stanza 1+3 AND forte/misterioso

Stanza 6 (45-55) like stanza 2 with theme d occurence

Postlude (55-62) descending theme d in 4 diff 8ves, ends tranquillo, ends 8ve lower than in intro

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TONALITY 'Is My Team Ploughing'

INTRO, stranza 1+3: (dead man)

  • Dorian mode OR Dminor+Dorian inflections (Bnat+Cnat replacing Bb+C#) 

stanza 2+4: (live man)

  • not modal 
  • D minor 
  • bass descends chromatically 
  • less clear later - Ab used

interlude, stanza 5

  • Dorian mode
  • Ab excursing to Fminor 

stanza 6:

  • blurred/inconclusive Emajor (G# enharmonically Ab)
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HARMONY 'Is My Team Ploughing'


3 parallel minor 5/3 triads - effect shift from Dminor to Fminor (40-41)

consecutive 5ths

old-fashioned chromatic harmony (from pre-20th century);

  • when live man sings
  • chromatically desending bass
  • half-diminished 7th chords (11-12)
  • French augmented 6th chords (15)

simple diatonic chords (in Dorian tonality) - made mysterious by placing Dmin and Gmaj next to eachother (Gmaj has raised 6th of Dorian scale)

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TEMPO, METRE, RHYTHM 'Is My Team Ploughing'

changes of tempo to shape of text;

  • dead man - 'andante sostenuto ma non troppo lento'
  • live man - 'poco animato' + 'animando'
  • later on - several changes
  • final ' Tempo I: tranquillo' resolution 

changes of metre to shape of text;   (recitative vocal in free time due to long notes)

  • 4/4 usually
  • 3/4 (8) so text isn't too stretched out 
  • short 2/4 bars (just before stanza 2+4) - live man's impatience 
  • 3/4 - live man's final reponses - urgency sensed

opens with flexible rhythm;

  • dotted rhythms
  • triplet quavers (1st of each group tied to a crotchet)
  • ordinary quavers
  • offbeat crotchets (4)
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SONORITY 'On Wenlock Edge'

tenor + string quartet + piano 

cello used tenor clef at beginning (pizz. cello + tremolo strings) - wind (Ravel/Impressionism)

PPP demisemiquaver flourishes (31-32) (43-44) 

extended trills (33)

tremolos (67 onwards)

string quartet features;

  • tremolo
  • rapid repetition of notes - storm and turbulence (1-3)
  • alternation between 2 notes a 3rd or mor apart (57-64)
  • long trills - intensifies atmosphere created by tremolos
  • sul ponticello - thin strained tone (57-61 quiet) (57 momentarily loud aggressive effect - force of gale)
  • naturale (returning to normal bowing bar 62)
  • triple stopped pizz. (8)
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STRUCTURE 'On Wenlock Edge'

INTRO/theme a (1-6) descending parallel 6/3 chords + chromaticism + false relations 

Stanza 1/theme b (6-16) pentatonic vocal melody+ chromatic(-from 14)

Interlude (16-21) like INTRO

Stanza 2 (21-31) like stanza 1 + changes in tenor to suit new words

Interlude (31-33) piano flourishes against string long trills

Stanza 3/theme c (34-43) string chromatic motif(35-6), piano des parallel 6/3 chords(39)

Interlude (43-44) like 2nd Interlude 

Stanza 4 (45-55) like music in stanza 3 BUT semitone higher sometimes (50)

Interlude (55-57) based on INTRO 

Stanza 5 (58-68) new vocal line, LH of 62 developed from theme b, 65-66 like 11-12

Postlude (69-77) theme c + open rising 4th of theme b

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TONALITY 'On Wenlock Edge'

G minor ( first notes of LH) 

(3-10) notes belong to pentatonic set G-A-C-D-F (outlined in piano ostinato) - indicates G (modal feel)

BUT major-minor ambiguity - no Bb/Bnat so is it Gminor or modal G major? = G minor due to earlier Bbs + Fnat 

Abs in piano+cello (11) - Ab major BUT still same pentatonic set till bar 14 - BITONAL to intensify stress/conflict

Abs return in staza 2 + other flatword movement like Dbs + enharmonic G# near end 

END G minor firmly traditionally established - by repeated octave D-G bass movement 

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HARMONY 'On Wenlock Edge'

mostly consonant (begins Ebmaj chord in 1st inversion BUT Ebmaj tonality negated by Abmin)

whole tone progression Eb to Cb (LH + violin bar 2)


  • parallel 1st inversions 
  • parallel 6/3 chords from start
  • exact parallelism ( bar 1 + bar 2) - involves false relation (C + Cb)

other false relation (bar 3 Db + Dnat)

piano doubled by strings 

more straightforward quartal harmony (piano 3-10) - pentatonic set GACDF

dissonance (Ab clash with G bar 11 'gale')

chromatic chordal movement (semitone down at a time 14-15)

distinctive chromatic slides ('heaving hill' 37)

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TEMPO, METRE, RHYTHM 'On Wenlock Edge'

'Allegro moderato' surprising for storm

  • BUT rhythmically active for storm : tremeolos / trills / short notes 

4/4 throughout 

  • BUT intro - triplet quavers + sextuplet semiquavers - sounds 12/8
  • 4/4 clarified as voice enters (doubled 8ve lower by cello)
  • ordinary semiquavers in violin I
  • syncopation e.g. string motif(35), violin I trills on weak beats(3)
  • rippling semiquaver ostinato figures (5)
  • rapid arpeggios (31)
  • triplets and sextuplets from start 
  • cross-rhythms (bar 3 - sextuplet semiquavers + LH semiquavers)
  • piano rippling hemidemisemiquavers (31)
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TEXTURE 'On Wenlock Edge'


parallel first inversions 

piano doubles upper strings

pizz. cello doubles V2 an 8ve lower using occasional notes

ostinato sextuplets RH + unison trills (v2+viola) + doubling of vocal 2 octaves lower (cello+LH)

trills inner string parts + occasional ornaments V1

strings drop out (just voice and piano)

cello joins - chromatic descent 

ends with piano alone 

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TEXTURE 'Is My Team Ploughing'


[at beginning and end] all instruments HOMORHYTHMICALLY moving 


  • chordal homophony in strings - (atmospherically enables voice to sing in free tempo) 
  • block chords (acc cello + voice)


  • piano repeated note triplet chords (reinforces animated+agitated vocal)
  • cello countermelody - doubles piano LH bass OR RH melody

fortissimo tutti

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TEXTURE 'Bredon Hill'


solemn sustained chords (bells)

MEL-DOM-HOM (as voice enters over sustained chords - recit-like freedom)

[stanza2] piano dense parallel semibreve/minim chords + string sparse parallel chords 

triplet ostinato - 3-layer texture (rapid bells)

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MELODY 'On Wenlock Edge'


verse 1 and repeated for verse 2:

  • modal styles (folk) melody - restricted note range to 4 pitches before 1st F on 'Wrekin' (7) - pentatonic
  • repeated notes (gales power 11-12)
  • climax on top forte G (drama of storm 13)

bar 34 onwards:

  • repeated notes 
  • chromaticism
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MELODY 'Is My Team Ploughing''

  • recitative style - free rhythm over static chords (at simple diatonic Dorian start)
  • more chromatic style develops 
  • begins conjunct 
  • larger leaps (14-15)
  • mostly comfortable tenor range 
  • occasional high notes (top A 'dead')
  • DEAD MAN - pianissimo quasi-recitative over D minor chord , rhythmically flexible
  • LIVE MAN - forte accompanied by agitated piano triplets while cello slides down chromatic style, regular metre 
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MELODY 'Bredon Hill''

  • syllabic
  • occasional melismas e.g. 'happy' (33)
  • masterful accentuation of syllables e.g. anacrusis to fit iambic nature of words 'Bredon Hill'
  • freedom for singer at end 'free tempo' as long as he finishes before instrumental section 
  • vocal music begins in G major 
  • Fnat (29) - modal Mixolydian 
  • more chromatic middle of song 
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