On Wenlock Edge [ from A Shropshire Lad – A E Housman]

Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. 1872 - d. 1958)
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Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. 1872 - d. 1958)

Performance date: 02/07/2015

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1909

Duration: 00:22:18

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:Sextet

Instrumentation Other: T-solo, pf, 2vn,va,vc

Artists: Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins] Simon Aspell [viola] Christopher Marwood [cello]) - [quartet]
James Gilchrist - [tenor]
Anna Tilbrook - [piano]

On Wenlock Edge [ from A Shropshire Lad – A E Housman]

Housman (1859-1936) was professor of Latin at Cambridge and a leading
classicist of his time.    He wrote “A
Shropshire Lad”, a cycle of 63 poems in the early 1890s and when publishers
turned it down he issued it at his own expense in 1896. It gradually gained
popularity, becoming one of the best-loved set of poems, never out of print
since. The verses have proved rich pickings for composers of the First World
War and since. Surprisingly he had never visited Shropshire at the time he
wrote the verses, dreaming up a kind of idealised rural community similar to
Hardy’s Wessex.

1908 Vaughan Williams went to Paris for a three-month period of study with
Ravel and his unusual choice of piano quintet 
as accompanying ensemble may well have been influenced Chausson’s 
or Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson.  He
began his song cycle at his time and acknowledged some French polish in his writing, though the dominant mood is that of
the English folk-song.  Gervase Elwes sang
at the first performance in London in November 1909 when it was
enthusiastically received. 
Ravel paid Vaughan Williams the compliment of playing the
piano in the first French performance of the work, in February 1912, following
which he wrote, Everyone is agreed that
your lyric poems were a revelation.

first song (Allegro moderato)
provides a close match between words and music, Vaughan Williams biographer the
late Michael Kennedy considered the second song (Andantino) the finest of the six. 
The third song (Andante sostenuto,
ma non troppo lento
) is a powerfully dramatic piece with a sting in the
tail.  Next comes a charming love song (Allegretto) while the fifth (Moderato tranquillo) is the most
ambitious of the cycle, with a splendid pastoral sensitivity. Finally a song
with a complete change of mood (Andante  tranquillo) which brings the cycle to a
happy conclusion.