Vaughan Williams was holidaying on the coast in Margate in Kent on the day Britain entered the first world war. The resort was not an embarkation point, but ships were engaging in fleet exercises. The composer later told the story that the tune came into his head as he walked the cliff, at which point he jotted down the notes. A young scout then made a citizen’s arrest, assuming he was scribbling details of the coastline for the enemy.”
– “How the First World War Inspired Britain’s Favourite piece of Classical Music – The Guardian
November 11, 2018 will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War to End All Wars,” or “The Great War,” which today we remember as World War I. It was Staunton, Virginia-born President Woodrow Wilson who declared November 11 as Armistice Day – “The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month, ” which we now mark as Veteran’s Day.
Here at our home base, several Staunton-based organizations have come together for a week long commemoration of World War I and to celebrate our Veterans of all wars – including a presentation by the Heifetz Institute on November 9th. Ahead of that, our Video of the Week celebrates a work of stunning pastoral beauty that nonetheless was composed against a backdrop of military manuevers at the start of the war.
This work by Vaughan Williams “starts with the darkest, richest sounds a violin can make, then rises to an airy lightness, and it has become far and away Britain’s most popular piece of classical music,” declares the Guardian. Vaughan Williams, in his early 40s at the time, was inspired by the naval exercises taking place both to write this piece, and then to enlist – as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served as a wagon orderly in France and on the Salonika front, doing the dangerous work of rescuing wounded and dying soldiers from the battlefield under heavy bombardment.
Vaughan Williams was not a private for long. In 1917, he was made a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery, was responsible for firing heavy shells towards enemy lines, which led to his deafness in later life. After the Armistice, he became the director of music for the First Army of the British Expeditionary Force, with responsibility for organizing amateur music making among the troops.
And that piece that first popped in to his head on the British seashore? Shortly after his discharge, Vaughan Williams poured the intensity of his feelings into this serene-yet-searing work, the now-beloved Lark Ascending.
And our Video of the Week features an memorable performance from 2016 by Artist in Residence Eric Silberger, presenting the North American premiere of a special string sextet version by German composer/arranger Martin Gerigk.