A-Level Revision

Vaughan Williams

The third Vocal Set Work is by Vaughan Williams – On Wenlock Edge. I think the most important thing is to start with a clear line of argument, so lets dive into that first.

Lines of argument

I have made the point in previous blogs that you need a line of argument for your essay. It isn’t just about showing key features that are highlighted in the question. It is about showing that you understand the style. A lot of this contextual content can be given and laid out in the introduction and here are some potential ideas to focus on:

  • 1909 Song Cycle – What is a song cycle designed to achieve – target audience?
  • French Impression
  • English Folk Music
  • English Choral Tradition – Tudor Church music – Thomas Tallis & William Byrd
  • Movement away from the German Romanic tradition of Lieder

Wider Listening

  • William Byrd – O Lord my God
  • Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  • Debussy – Children’s Corner
  • Debussy – La Mer (1905) – another piece that looks at the outdoors, this time The Sea.
  • You could listen to other pieces that consider the outdoors or rural life – “Harold in Italy” is good because it uses an “Idee Fixe” which links to Symphonie Fantastique.
  • German Lieder/Song Cycles – Schubert is a good place to start, there are lots of examples that you can go to.

Example Introduction

 Vaughan Williams was an English composer during the late 19th & early 20th century. On Wenlock Edge was a song-cycle composed in 1909. The cycle used 6 song-setting poems from “A Shropshire Lad”. The cycle attempts to depict rural life in Shropshire and uses a French-Impressionist style combined with a look back at English Choral & Folk Music. Vaughan Williams was keen to move away from the German Romantic “Lieder” style and used a range of influences in order to achieve this goal. This essay will consider how VW uses [INSERT ELEMENTS] to create a set of songs that are impressionist in style and heavily influenced by English music. It will also look at the different approaches to writing for piano, strings and the voice.

I think that a great way in to this piece is to look at the Piano, String, Vocal & Melodic styles. There are obviously lots of different features in this piece, but I would start by looking at what Vaughan Williams does with the forces at work in this piece.

Piano Style

  • Shimmering, French Impressionist qualities – he studied with Ravel.
  • Rapid Arpeggios
  • Not Virtuosic, but also not easy to play
  • Block Chords & Semi-Quaver Runs
  • Una Corda
  • Shimmering Demi-Semi-Quavers & Hemi-Demi-Semi-Quavers
  • Tremolo
  • Large chords – wide spread
  • Trills
  • Parallel Movement
  • Ostinato accompaniment
  • Sextuplet Ostinatos

String style

  • Tremolo
  • Pizzicato & Triple Stopped Pizzicato
  • High Tessitura – Tenor Clef used
  • Sul Ponticello – nearer to the bridge, changes the timbre
  • Con Sordino – Muted
  • Arco
  • Open Harmonics

Vocal Style

  • Tenor Soloist
  • Standard range – nothing virtuosic
  • Syllabic with minimal melismas
  • Recitative Style in places – free rhythm
  • Word Painting – Gale
  • Uses the Iambic nature of the poem and emphasises certain syllables

Melodic Style

  • Modal & Folk Influenced – Dorian & Mixolydian
  • Restricted range at times
  • Pentatonic use & Chromatic use
  • Recitative style melody
  • Conjunct moments
  • Word Painting using repeated notes

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