Thursday, September 17, 2015

How the Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony is Greatly Misunderstood

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 3, A Pastoral Symphony is a greatly misunderstood work, many taking the title quite literally rather than understanding its true purpose. Today, let’s continue our chat about music inspired by WWI by looking at this moving symphony.

Vaughan Williams wrote his “Pastoral” Symphony in 1922. While many believe it relates to the English landscape, providing peace and rest to the listener, it is actually quite the opposite. Vaughan Williams uses his Third Symphony to depict the terrain of the WWI battlefields and writes in a way that causes his listeners to confront loss and death, remembering those who have found eternal rest. The symphony is unique in that each movement is slow. Vaughan Williams frequently changes the tonal center, causing his audience to feel emotionally unsettled.

Below you can listen to this symphony. Listen especially in the second movement during which a trumpet cadenza depicts a bugler that the composer heard practicing during the war:

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