Vaughan Williams, Ralph

Composer

b Down Ampney, Glos 1872, d St Marylebone, London 1958. A vicar’s son who moved before he was 3 when his father died, and always considered himself a Londoner. Rottingdean (Prep) Sch and Charterhouse, where he studied classics and moved from the violin to the viola. But his musical talents, though slow to develop when compared with many other musicians and though he bemoaned in maturity his own ‘amateurish technique’, were encouraged from boyhood, notably by an aunt. He studied at RCM (under Parry, Wood and Stanford) from 1890; Trinity Coll Cambridge 1892, (BA, BMus 1894; DMus 1901). Returned to RCM 1895; a close friend of G Holst with whom he met weekly for 40 years to discuss and play music. Organist at St Barnabas’ S Lambeth and at Pimlico, 1896–9. Studied in Berlin 1897, Paris 1908, but concentrated on English music including collecting folk-tunes, while he admired the sometimes ‘mystical mood’ of Franz Liszt. He worked surprisingly well with Percy Dearmer on The English Hymnal 1904–6, by now an established composer and a trenchant critic of his Victorian predecessors such as Barnby and Monk qv, whose music (along with such tunes as Scholefield’s ST CLEMENT, 222) he dubbed sentimental and enervating. It was he who insisted that certain tunes must be included even if new words (usually by Dearmer) had to be written for them; in the 1st edn his own tunes appeared anonymously. In 1920 he was appointed Professor at RCM, visiting the USA in 1922; co-editor of The Oxford Book of Carols (1928) and Songs of Praise (1931), both again with Dearmer and M Shaw (qv). Having lived in Dorking since 1929, in 1953 he moved back to C London, and on re-visiting the USA in 1954 he was overwhelmed by the welcome he received. He had a wide range of compositions (from 9 symphonies to film and theatre music), and interests (from Tudor sacred music to popular movements of his day); he wrote many articles and books on these and kindred topics. He was flexible in writing for many levels of music-making; concerned at the adulation he was receiving as a revered father-figure, he began to insert facetious notes into his concert programmes. According to his second wife he drifted from early atheism ‘into a cheerful agnosticism; he was never a professing Christian’. But part of his unshakeable creed was that ‘good taste is a moral issue’. In 1899 he had left the post of organist at St Barnabas’ Pimlico when required to be a communicant, a formal habit which by then he had dropped. He did much to assist refugees from Germany in the 1930s, and in 1939 his work was banned by Nazi Germany; he said that he voted Labour in every election except (ironically) 1945, which brought in Attlee’s Labour government. Having declined many official honours, he accepted the OM as it carried ‘no obligation to anyone in authority’. His bas-relief monument at Dorking parish church is placed in the porch. See also Vaughan Williams by A E F Dickinson, 1963, and the 16-page entry in Grove. Nos.38*, 171*=203*, 518, 585, 763*, 884*, 934*.