Ten Blake Songs for tenor and oboe

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

Performance date: 03/07/2015

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1957

Duration: 00:19:23

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Instrumentation Other: T-solo, ob

Artists: James Gilchrist - [tenor]
Gareth Hulse - [oboe]

mark the bi-centenary of the birth of poet, artist and visionary William Blake
[1757-1827] film director Guy Brenton produced The Vision of William Blake, for the Blake Society, commissioning
music from the 85 year old Vaughan Williams. 
The result was an extraordinary set of ten songs for tenor and
oboe.  Brenton only used eight of them in
his film, plus music from the composer’s 1930 ballet Job inspired by Blake’s Biblical illustrations. Vaughan Williams
never saw the film as he died in August 1958, before the première screening
that October, making it his last completed work. The full set of songs was
first heard in a BBC broadcast the same month with Wilfred Brown and Janet
Craxton, and the first concert performance took place a month later. It is
remarkable how fresh and inventive the music is, despite the composer’s
considerable age.

selected poems from Blake’s Songs of
(1789) and Songs of Experience

oboe launches the first song Infant Joy
with a motif which recurs during the song and sets the pastoral, reflective
mood of the cycle. T S Eliot remarked on the terrifying honesty of A
poison tree
and there is a certain truthfulness apparent in the music at
the outcome. The piper gives the oboe
the opportunity to create a folksy atmosphere. Vaughan Williams provided
similar episodes in his early symphonies. He once said he did not like London, one of Blake’s most terrifying
visions from Songs of Experience,
nonetheless he includes it in a setting for tenor solo. It is the first of
three such solo settings. The oboe returns in The lamb which reverts to the wistful rural mood of the opening. The shepherd is the second tenor solo, with a distinctly folk-song mood.  Blake’s mystical ideas are heard in Ah! Sunflower  while the wailing oboe creates the mood for Cruelty has a human heart. The divine image is the last of the
tenor solos, a hymn-like sequence with a conciliatory ending. Rather than
finish at this point, Vaughan Williams adds Eternity,
where the oboe ends the cycle with a ppp
A natural as the music seems to float into space.