Ambulances and allotments: RVW and wartime

RVW during WW1

Vaughan Williams was unlucky, as were millions of others who had to endure not one, but two World Wars (my grandparents, for example – my father’s father served in France in WWI and never, ever, discussed it). Even though RVW was 42 in 1914, it didn’t occur to him that he wouldn’t do what he could for the cause and so enlisted in the RAMC. This meant, of course, that composing was out of the question for the duration. 

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VW goes to war (and the movies)

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Vaughan Williams had already been added to the Nazi’s hit list in the event of their successfully invading the UK. An ambulance driver in the First World War, Vaughan Williams was strongly opposed to the policies of the Nazis, and worked tirelessly to help refugees from the areas they governed get to the UK. During the war itself he was one of the organisers of the famous National Gallery concerts, which have been mentioned on MusiCB3 previously.

By 1939, Vaughan Williams had composed in virtually every genre. The only areas that remained untouched were the relatively new mediums of radio and film. The latter was particularly surprising as Vaughan Williams was a motion picture fan. A call from the Ministry of Information to work on a propaganda film produced by the wonderful cinematic team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, would produce Vaughan Williams’ first, and one of his best film scores, 49th Parallel.

Opening titles of wartime classic 49th Parallel
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There are quite a few historical moments to which I would like to have been a witness, not least the premiere of the Rite of Spring in 1913 (was it really as dramatic as is popularly believed?). The other cultural moment that I would have loved to witness happened nine years later in an enormously changed world. Archaeologist, Howard Carter, who had excavated in the Valley of the Kings on and off since the late 1900s, believing there was an undiscovered tomb, finally hit gold, when one of the most junior of the Egyptian dig team, a water boy, accidentally uncovered what appeared to be a step beneath a waste heap on November 4th 1922. Carter’s team cleared the steps and found a door with a cartouche in Tutankhamen‘s name above it. He notified his employer and waited for Lord Carnarvon, who had funded the expedition, to arrive in Egypt. Finally, on 26th November a small hole was made by Carter in the door of the tomb, the air of 3000 years wafted out, and by the light of a candle Carter peered in.

“Can you see anything?” asked Carnarvon. “Yes,” gasped Carter, “Things. Wonderful things.”

Tut-mania was about to hit the world.

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RVW and the Symphony

Like Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler before him, Vaughan Williams composed nine symphonies. But, unlike Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler each and every one of his nine is totally unlike any other. Think of the contrast between A Sea Symphony (no. 1), the Pastoral (no. 3) and his eighth for example. Are these by the same composer? Well, yes and this is the wonderful enigma (is that the right word?) that – for me, at least, deepens my respect for RVW’s creative mind every time I listen.

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Queen of the Music Hall

Marie Lloyd died on the 7th October 1922. Her funeral a few days later was attended by thousands of mourners, and was described by T. S. Eliot as “a ceremony which surprised even warmest admirers”. To mark the centenary month of the ‘Queen of the Music Hall’, today on MusiCB3 we will look at her life through the lens of some of her songs which are held at the UL.

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Transported by music

Here on the MusiCB3 blog, we talk a lot about the collection of Victorian and Edwardian songs held at the University Library. It is rare, however, that we have the opportunity to dust them off and perform them. This week is one of those rare times, as a couple of music librarians (the Daisy Belles) are involved in the launch festival for the new Centre for Music Performance in Cambridge.

With so many songs in the collections to choose from, picking just a handful for this event was a tricky task indeed. Thinking that some kind of central theme would both narrow down our choices and help the programme flow nicely, we decided to stick with songs which all had something to do with transport. The programme we finally came up with involves bicycles, hot air balloons, trains, and boats…

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A new academic year starts at the Pendlebury Library of Music

This gallery contains 6 photos.

A warm welcome back to our students and staff, and especially to all our new graduate and undergraduate students.  The Pendlebury Library of Music has had a busy start to term and it’s been great to be able to welcome … Continue reading

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Vaughan Williams 150: the writer

RVW in the 1890s

This month sees the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birth and we here at MusiCB3 thought we would devote many of MusiCB3’s posts over the rest of the year to different aspects of his output in celebration of his life and work. Coming up we will consider RVW’s music for films, RVW and Cambridge and RVW and folk music, but we begin with a consideration of RVW as a writer not of music but of articles and lectures – an aspect of his output which tends to be overlooked perhaps more than it ought to be.

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Kaija Saariaho at 70

This month marks the 70th birthday of the acclaimed Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Her work takes in the whole range from opera and works for large orchestra, to pieces for solo instruments and electronics, and although her style has undergone many developments over the decades, it seems to me that if one can point to a single unifying factor in her work it is an appreciation and investigation of sound itself as a primary material.

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Song spotlight: “Help” The Railway Dog

As we have remarked before on MusiCB3, it is sometimes the case that a piece of music is interesting mainly for the snippet of history it illustrates. Particularly with the Victorian song collection, it is often not just about the music. Examples of this could be that the cover illustration depicts a now lost building (such as the Crystal Palace), or it might be the only surviving portrait of a particular performer. 

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