Build­ing a Li­brary

A SEA SYM­PHONY Ralph Vaughan Wil­liams One of the most vivid mu­si­cal por­tray­als of the ocean cap­ti­vates our reviewer Terry Blain, who ex­plores the finest record­ings of Vaughan Wil­liams’s mar­itime sym­phony

BBC Music Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Terry Blain lis­tens out for the finest record­ings of Vaughan Wil­liams’s A Sea Sym­phony

‘Much the finest piece of sea mu­sic that we, a sea­far­ing folk above ev­ery­thing, pos­sess’. The Manch­ester Guardian wrote that in 1910, when Vaughan Wil­liams con­ducted the pre­miere of A Sea Sym­phony at the Leeds Fes­ti­val, on his 38th birth­day. The pa­per’s ver­dict ar­guably still holds true, al­though Brit­ten’s Peter Grimes is an ob­vi­ous ri­val. Fit­tingly, per­haps, the in­spi­ra­tion for A Sea Sym­phony came from across the broad At­lantic. The po­etry of the Amer­i­can Walt Whit­man was vogu­ishly pop­u­lar when Vaughan Wil­liams was an un­der­grad­u­ate at Cam­bridge Univer­sity. The com­poser, a ‘cheer­ful ag­nos­tic’, im­me­di­ately fas­tened on the pow­er­ful pan­the­ism of Whit­man’s po­etic vi­sion, and the poet’s in­tense phys­i­cal en­gage­ment with the world around him. The mu­sic that Whit­man’s sea texts elicited has both thrilling vis­cer­al­ity and a strong philo­soph­i­cal un­der­tow, in its cli­mac­tic vi­sion of the in­di­vid­ual soul sail­ing forth ‘for the deep wa­ters only, where mariner has not yet dared to go’.

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