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Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5

1249 words - 5 pages

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony Number FiveRalph Vaughan Williams, descended from the famous Wedgwood and Darwin families, was born at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire in 1872. In 1890 he entered the Royal College of Music, and in 1892 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. One of the greatest of the British composers, a prolific writer of music, folksong collector, and champion of British cultural heritage, he died aged 85 in 1958. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey alongside the nation's greatest artists and poets.Symphony No. 5 in DIntroductionThe symphony contains a lot of material from RVW's then unfinished opera, The Pilgrim's Progress. When he began the Fifth Symphony, RVW thought he may never finish the opera, and didn't want to waste any good ideas. The symphony does not have a programme, it is absolute music. It is in four movements: a 'Preludio' first movement, a Scherzo, a 'Romanza' slow movement, and a 'Passacaglia' finale.First Movement : PreludioFrom the very beginning, RVW puts the key signature of this movement into doubt. The movement opens with a horn call in D, set against a firm base (or bass?) of octave C's. Could it be that in the great traditions of British musical 'amateurism', RVW got his transposition wrong? Or is this a deliberate feature of the music, intended to blur the tonality? Musicologists prefer the latter explanation. This is by no means an unusual feature of his music, when he was asked what the 4th symphony was about, RVW replied 'It is about F-minor', alluding to his sometimes hazy tonalities, often augmented by his use of modal, mainly pentatonic melodies, which, with no leading note, often help to 'fudge' the tonality. Apart from the horn call, the brass is seldom used, and the texture is light and airy. The first violins then enter, high on the E string, doubled at the octave below by the seconds in an introduction, before their main theme at (1), doubled by flutes. The triplets add rhythmic variety, as well as providing a distinctly 'folkie' feel. During the course of the movement, the distinctive dotted rhythm of the horns hardly ever leaves us. There are some rather abrupt key changes. i.e. Eb to E at (5). We are taken into the Allegro by a sudden change in mood. The music darkens with a slightly sinister version of the horn call in the bassoons. We then enter the Allegro, with a scurrying in the strings, whilst the wind begins a downward progression of notes, which builds to a climax, with strings in semiquavers, until we reach the original tempo once more, as the music winds down, back to the horn call. Some development of ideas takes place, before the music once again winds down. The horn calls are answered by single notes in woodwind, and the movement ends as mysteriously as it began - the horns fade into the distance, in the key of D, but we are left, somewhat perturbed by the pianissimo cello C against the viola D.The movement is plainly 20th century, with many dissonances, yet the...

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