On Wenlock Edge

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

Performance date: 27/06/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1909

Duration: 00:21:52

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

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

Instrumentation Category:Accompanied Voice

Artists: Nicholas Mulroy - [Tenor]
Julius Drake - [piano]
Hill Quartet (Bridget O'Donnell, David López Ibáñez [violins], Julia Doukakis [viola], Ben Michaels [cello]) - [quartet]

Ralph Vaughan Williams [1872-1958]

On Wenlock Edge [from A Shropshire Lad – A E Housman] [1909]

1. On Wenlock Edge – Allegro moderato

2. From Far, From Eve and Morning – Andantino 

3. Is My Team Ploughing – Andante sostenuto, ma non troppo lento

4. Oh, when I was in love with you – Allegretto 

5. Bredon Hill – Moderato tranquillo

6. Clun – Andante tranquillo

A.E. 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.

In 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  Chanson Perpétuelle or Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson.  He began his song cycle at this 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.

The 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. 

Ian Fox