Ralph (Rafe) Vaughan Williams

Born October 12, 1872 in Gloucestershire, England

Died August 26, 1958


Nationality: English
Period/Style: Modern


About the composer:


Ralph Vaughan Williams was a very important British composer.  He was acquainted with many of the other English composers in his day, and he was highly respected by them.  He served in World War One as a lieutenant. Even during the war, he never lost his creativity or his love of music.  Vaughan Williams considered himself to be a “Londoner” because he loved that city and spent most of his life there. Both sides of his family had distinctive careers: many of the Vaughan Williamses were prominent lawyers. On his mother’s side, he was related to Charles Darwin who developed the theory of evolution.  In the early 1900’s he discovered English folk songs that were becoming extinct. He collected many of them and edited them, then used them in his music to keep them alive for future generations. Folk songs are songs of the common people, the working class, and Vaughan Williams admired the people and their songs.


About the music:


English Folk Song Suite: (8-11 min)


As the title suggests, this suite is made up of several English folk songs. Vaughan Williams had a gift for arranging folk tunes for orchestra, making them sound very appealing, not only to the English but to people all over the world. You may not know the names of the tunes, but do you recognize any of them?


Fantasisia on “Greensleeves” (4-5 min)


This tune, which was an English folk song, is known to many as the Christmas carol What Child is This?  The word “fantasia” is defined in the dictionary as “a free composition structured according to the composer’s fancy” and “a medley of familiar themes, with variations and interludes.”  Well, both of those would apply to this music of Vaughan Williams. He took familiar tunes and gave them his own special treatment.


Suggested activities:


Charles Dickens, a great British writer of short stories and novels, died just two years before Vaughan Williams was born.  Find a Dickens story and read it, to get a sense of what England was like in Vaughan Williams’ day.


Locate Vaughan Williams’ birthplace on the map.