Earth has not anything to show more fair…

Like Wordsworth, Vaughan Williams is somehow or other always associated with the countryside (it’s the folk tunes, I suppose). It can come as something of shock to realise that the composer – despite being born in Down Ampney in Gloucestershire and living for a considerable part of his life (1929–53) in leafy Surrey (Dorking) – always considered himself as a Londoner. So, when he was anxious to emphasise the abstract, purely musical aspects of his second symphony, he suggested that the work should become known, not as he had originally titled it, A London Symphony which suggests that there’s some kind of extra-musical narrative involved, but as a Symphony by a Londoner.

Actually the work straddles both worlds: on the programmatic side there are the Westminster Chimes, street cries, hansom cabs, mouth organs and accordions; while those that are pernickety about having their symphonies served pure and unadulterated can safely ignore all these distractions and enjoy the work simply as music.

Just to get you in the mood (or wind you up depending on whether you’re a ‘pure’ music buff or not), here are the two occurrences of the Westminster Chimes:
the first happens at the end of the slow introduction to the first movement; it’s scored for harp (harmonics) and solo clarinet –


…the second is just before the final section of the last movement (the Epilogue); it’s scored just for harp harmonics –


André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876-55708 – 2

…and here’s something for you to ponder. At the beginning of the symphony the clock strikes half-past the hour; at the end it strikes quarter-to: what meaning (if any) do you think this has?

Course materials:

VW biography

The London Symphony is considerably shorter than the Sea Symphony; it’s well worth listening to in its entirety:

André Previn – Symphony No. 2, “A London Symphony “: Lento; Allegro risoluto
[Spotify search terms: “a london symphony” previn]

For those of you who are interested in the Orchestra app that Theo mentioned on Wednesday (currently, as I understand it, only available for the iPad), Michael [Locke] has kindly provided us with a link to the relevant website: Orchestra.


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