Wow posting every day takes a lot more energy than I thought…especially when I’m just starting this. Ok, enough excuses let’s get down to business.
This next piece is my absolute favorite. Ever. I have fallen in love with this symphony from the minute I heard it. It has become my best friend, the piece I go to whenever I need a hug, the piece I listen when I need to reconnect with my soul. It has been with me through every moment of my life. It was there to calm me in tragedy, and there to calm me from anger, and there to humble me from conceit.
Vaughan Williams Symphony no. 5
I love this piece. I bought a score my junior year of high school, after listening to it for a couple hundred times. I bring that score with me everywhere I go, and I ask every composer I meet to sign it.
I still remember every version of that piece I have listened to. I started with the version by the Toronto Symphony, conducted by Peter Oundjian. I remember hearing the original recording conducted by Vaughan Williams. I remember the day I decided that Vaughan Williams’ tempi were wrong and so was his conducting (I’ll make a blog post on conductor/composer things later, don’t worry), I remember hearing the version by the London Symphony, the Columbia Symphony, and the Scottish Symphony. But for sure my favorite recording is by the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder, who, in my opinion, conducts Vaughan Williams’ music better than any other conductor I’ve seen. (totally waiting to see if Simon Rattle makes a recording that would change my mind though)
First let me talk about the Symphony for a bit.
This piece could not have been written at a more perfect time. It was in the middle of World War II and Britain was suffering. This was not the time for a loud aggression, people were hearing bombs exploding over their head the whole time, their loved ones were either dead or dying, hope was dimming and being alive was turning into not dead yet. What everyone needed was hope, love, sincerity, love.
Love was indeed what Vaughan Williams had. I remember watching a documentary called The Passion of Vaughan Williams by the BBC. (you can watch it here)
I don’t want to go too deep into analogies because this piece is definitely not programmatic in anyway and this piece should go straight to the heart, not being pestered by images it creates in your head.
When I hear it, I think of it like getting four different kinds of hugs. The first movement is so passionate, yet light. It’s a huge splash of color that calmly invites you to a hugging embrace. Listening to this first movement gives me the same feelings I get when I see my family after I get off my plane at the end of the school year. It’s beautiful, inviting, warm, and loving. You may have noticed that this piece speaks to me in ways which are beyond words.
The second movement, the Scherzo, is more like the kind of hug when you see a friend walking down the street and you sneak up behind them and surprise them with a hug.
The third movement, is beyond words. I’m listening to it now, and I’m holding back tears. I hold back tears every time. I think Vaughan Williams put it best when he was considering (and eventually decided not to) put this quote above just that symphony. I apologize I’m not able to find it out for sure, but I think this might be it. Spoken by Pilgrim from his opera, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Save me, Lord! My burden is greater than I can bear
Where the Romanza is like a hug to help someone through grief, the fourth movement is when that person hugs you bit longer, so that you get over the grief. I usually relate the Romanza to losing a loved one while the Passacaglia is gaining a loved one.
Forgive me if I seem like I’m too crazy for this piece. No, I take that back. I never need to ask forgiveness for something I love. Music has the power to enter your soul and transform it, and if anyone finds it obsessive or worthy of nothing more than being mocked, then I’m sorry for you, because you have yet to witness the power of art, and I invite you to join me, and release that cage, and let your heart roam for a bit. (read my last blog post, with the program notes about my piece if you didn’t get it)
Here you go friends.
and here’s a pic of my score and the place where every composer I meet signs! Yes, I just taped the program from Roomful of Teeth, for those that don’t know, Caroline Shaw is a Pulitzer prize winning composer who composed this treasure