Today marks the birthday of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). One of the most important composers of the 20th century, Vaughan Williams’s prolific legacy includes nine symphonies, six operas, film scores, choral music, works for military band, and several now-standard hymn tunes. Forging an individual musical voice steeped in the folk song traditions of his homeland, he is particularly well known for a lush, pastoral style that carries listeners away to the beauty of the English countryside.
Vaughan Williams’s enduringly popular The Lark Ascending is just such a piece. Scored for solo violin and orchestra and inspired by a poem by George Meredith, it’s filled with gentle melodies that seem to float along as if blown by a soft meadow breeze. The violin embodies the lark as it pours forth a silvery flutter of birdcalls before soaring skywards and disappearing from human view, the final notes climbing higher and higher, then fading into thin air.
The Lark Ascending has become an audience favorite that has enchanted listeners the world over, topping Classic FM’s annual “Hall of Fame” poll from 2007–10, 2014–17, and again in 2019 and 2020. The piece came into being at a tumultuous moment in world history with the outbreak of World War I. Then and now, this is music that has uniquely remarkable power to transport us out of our current time and place as we drift through a golden-hued musical landscape. In live performance, The Lark Ascending offers a moment of beauty, escape, and tranquility at a time when we need it most.
This Saturday, October 17, world-renowned, Grammy Award-winning violinist James Ehnes performs The Lark Ascending (along with Mendelssohn’s ever-popular Violin Concerto) in a livestream performance with the Houston Symphony. Pick up you tickets online.