Saturday, 8 October 2011

The King of Folk Music - Ralph Vaughan Williams

As stereotypes go the woollen jumper wearing, bearded folkie (and that’s just the girls) is one of the most dumb. It sort of ranks up there with the one that suggests all Irish are stupid, all black’s are thieves and all Jews are tight-fisted. In a nut shell it is utter tosh. There is also the odd belief that all folk songs have lyrics that always go “with a hey nonny nonny no.” All of which may have remained forever fixed in our minds as being accurate were it not for the efforts of one man. That man, an acclaimed composer who left this world in 1958 having written some quite incredible music, championed the rustic sounds of English folksongs to such a degree that without his massive input the music we now take for granted may never have hit our radio stations. No Fairport Convention, no Seth Lakeman, no Unthanks and no Liza Carthy.

“There is a feeling of recognition, as of meeting an old friend, which comes to us all in the face of great artistic experiences. I had the same experience when I first heard an English folksong, when I first saw Michelangelo's Day and Night, when I suddenly came upon Stonehenge or had my first sight of New York City – the intuition that I had been there already.”

His love of forgotten folk song was immense; so huge that he used, like many of his European contemporaries, melodies ‘borrowed’ from or influenced by these earliest forms of people music.

“The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation.”

Born on 12th October 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, Ralph Vaughan Williams, a vicars son, spent a career raising the profile of many long lost songs representing their beauty within the heart of pieces such as “English Folk Song Suite,” “Six Studies in English folksongs for Clarinet and Picolo,” and the supremely engaging epitome of all that is England or English “Lark Ascending.”

You can feel the gentel breeze brush your hair back from your forehead, see the clouds shadows as they float over the rolling hills, smell the scent of new mown grass, watch as cattle slowly graze treading their plodding way across the fields, hear that most English of birds, the lark, as it flies ever higher, up and up until it is lost from sight. This is that magnificent piece "Lark Ascending.".

It is the cause and effect of his passion for the working men and women of England’s roughly hewn songs that often gets forgotten, especially in light of his success with orchestral music, but it is the one gift we all, from Rock stars to Pop Idols, should thank him for.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The King of Folk Music?
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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