Day: June 1, 2017

Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no 5

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IF YOU RECALL, a few weeks ago I presented Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony as THE symphony for our times, in its realistic depiction of state evil and its warning that history repeats itself. Well, here is another symphony for our times but in a very different sense altogether — one which reflects beauty, honour, glory and everything noble and virtuous about life which is nostalgically lurking on the hinterland of the universe and in a hidden corner of our hearts. The 5th Symphony of the English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, is, to my mind, the most beautiful piece of pure music ever written. It is certainly one of the most spiritual pieces of music ever composed. Astonishingly, it was written at the height of the Second World War! Vaughan Williams was inspired to write it while composing his opera “Pilgrim’s Progress”, which he viewed as the manifestation of morality and this is what lies at the heart of this symphony. There is an order and cleanness which feels wholesomely noble. The very opposite of the chaos, amorality and disorder which lay at the heart of Europe when the symphony was being written. From start to finish, it is rivetingly beautiful. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more beautiful than the first movement, the third movement (coming after a lilting scherzo) is nothing less than divine, music to bring you into the presence of God. The final movement is the perfect end to the work; the coda in the last few minutes being one of the most beautiful endings of any symphony ever written.

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