Hymn tunes of Ralph Vaughan Williams find consensus: undisputed quality. The foremost English composer of his generation is credited with composing, adapting, or arranging more than 80 tunes set to important hymns of our faith.
The inter-war Oxford Book of Carols (published in 1928) was the brainchild of Reverend Percy Dearmer—a socialist, high church Anglican liturgist who believed that music should be at the core of Christian worship. Today the OBC is a world-renowned publication that shines as as a beacon of experimentation within tradition: a visionary musico-poetic collection of the most profoundly partisan nature.
Michael Kennedy has described Job as one of Vaughan Williams’s mightiest achievements. It is a work which, in a full production, combines painting (the inspiration for the work came from a scenario drawn up by Geoffrey Keynes based on William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job), literature (the King James Bible), music, and dance.
By Hugh Cobbe
The cantata Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams was written at a time when the country was slowly awakening to the possibility of a second European conflict. When invited to provide a work for the centenary of the Huddersfield Choral Society in October 1936, Vaughan Williams remembered that he had in his drawer an unpublished setting of Walt Whitman’s ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’.
Sunday 2 June marks the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in London. It also therefore follows that it is the anniversary of the works which were first performed at the coronation, including William Walton’s Orb and Sceptre March and Coronation Te Deum, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s O taste and see and Old Hundredth Psalm Tune (All people that on earth do dwell).
A history of the first ‘Carols for Choirs’ book, first published in 1961. Looking at materials from the OUP archive, we trace the journey from the initial idea through to its eventual release and unexpected success.
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) is most commonly known as a violist and composer, in particular for her famous Viola Sonata (1919), which has remained one of the most significant in the instrument’s repertoire since its composition. Her Shorter Pieces for viola and piano, as well as a number of solo songs, have gained increasing recognition since the turn of the millennium, as more of her music has begun to be published and researched.
I was fortunate enough to rehearse daily with the Truro cathedral choristers from the age of 8 to 13 (in the days before girl choristers). This fostered in me a love for choral music and for singing, which has continued throughout my life.
The OUP hire library is a hive of activity running up to Christmas. Months in advance, the hire librarians receive requests for perusal scores of longer Christmas works. From September, hundreds orders for carols flood in – sometimes up to 15 carols in one order!
I joined King’s College Choir as a boy treble in 1964. This was a time of real energy in the media, recording and concert world, and this possibly brought a different kind of perspective to David’s work with the choir. There were a number of firsts for the choir around this time.
I discovered the violin and piano version of The Lark Ascending in my youth, and I still remember how much I loved playing the violin part, unaccompanied. I was impressed by the programmatic transformation of the underlying poem as well as the liberating setting of the pentatonic scale and transcendent cadenza. Even then, I was already thinking of adapting this wonderful work for a different instrumentation.
We like to get an insight into the musical lives of Oxford composers by asking them questions about their artistic likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges.. In part 1 we spoke to composer David Bednall in August 2017 about what motivates him, and how he approaches a new commission. Here he tells us why he wanted to be a composer, the challenges he faces, and his musical guilty pleasures.
As Christmas draws to a close, so too does the busiest time of year for OUP’s Hire Library. Unsurprisingly, the majority of our most-hired materials this year have come from one of the most authoritative carol collections available to choirs today: the Carols for Choirs series and 100 Carols for Choirs. Whilst many singers are likely to have sung from this book, it is unlikely that many know the story of its conception.
Malcolm Archer’s career as a church musician has taken him to posts at Norwich, Bristol, Wells Cathedrals, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. As a composer, Malcolm has published many works; his pieces are widely performed, recorded and broadcast and are greatly enjoyed for their approachable nature and singability. We spoke with Malcolm about his writing, his inspiration, and his career ambitions besides being a composer.
Shakespeare has inspired countless and varied performances, works of art and pieces of writing. He has also inspired music. In this 400th year since Shakespeare’s death we asked five composers ‘how did you approach setting the Shakespeare text you chose for your recent work?’
Over the past few years, Britain has commemorated Shakespeare’s life, works, and death in parallel with an extensive remembrance of the First World War and those who served in it. The elision of Shakespeare’s work with this particular conflict is not a new trend: 100 years ago, similar celebrations of Shakespeare were occurring in the midst of wartime, and both Britain and Germany were employing his image and plays for propaganda and recruitment purposes.