Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony in E minor was premiered with Boult conducting in April 1948, and Boult's first recording of the piece followed in February of the following year, just three days after Stokowski had made the premiere recording. Boult was to return to the piece in the Decca studios in the early 1950's with the London Philharmonic - by this stage the Scherzo had been revised by the composer.
What we hear in this recording is the original Scherzo - HMV did also later issue an alternative disc with the revised Scherzo as part of this album.
It's interesting to look back to a review of the day - from The Record Guide (which gave it a star), written at a time when the work was still new and the composer had yet to complete his life's work:
"In the massive, brooding sadness of this extremely powerful work Vaughan Williams unites, as never before in his career, the two moods of his vision. It has the nature of a symphonic poem rather than of a symphony proper, and the four movements, although clearly divided, are played without a break. The Epilogue, which preserves an undeviating pianissimo for about twelve minutes, is an astounding imaginative feat. The muted orchestra weaves a cat's-cradle of glassy filaments through which shines a dead white light. It is like the final echo of a vanishing world - a human cry lost in the cold of interstellar space. The only other works which produce an impression at all similar are Sibelius's Tapiola and the Finale of Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor. The performance on the whole is admirably recorded, but the pianissimo in the Epilogue is not quite consistently preserved, and the woodwind solos at the end are distractingly near. In every other respect this is an issue worthy of a great work. (Since the Symphony was recorded the composer has revised the Scherzo in one or two places. The revision is very slight - indeed, scarcely noticeable; but the movement was re-recorded and the disc containing the new version is that now issued with the rest of the set.) "
Vaughan Williams: 6th Symphony
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony in E minor, known as Symphony No. 6, was composed in 1944-1948, during and immediately after World War II. Dedicated to Michael Mullinar, it was first performed by Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in April 1948. Within a year’s time it had received some 100 performances. Vaughan Williams, very nervous about this symphony, threatened several times to tear up the draft. At the same time, his program note for the first performance took a defiantly flippant tone.
The composer never intended the symphony to be programmatic, but it was inevitable that his post-war audience should associate its disturbing and often violent character with the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In connection with the last movement, the composer did eventually suggest that a quotation from Act IV of Shakespeare's The Tempest comes close to the music’s meaning: "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep." The Symphony is noteworthy for its unusually discordant harmonic language, reminiscent in approach if not in technique of his F Minor Symphony from over a decade earlier, and by its inclusion of a tenor saxophone among the woodwinds. In several respects this symphony marks the beginning of Vaughan Williams’s experiments with orchestration that so characterize his late music.
Vaughan Williams did not number his symphonies as he composed them (he referred to them only by title or key) until the appearance of the Ninth, which is in the same key as this symphony. At that point he assigned numbers to them, beginning with the F minor, in order to avoid confusion. The first three are as well known by their titles as by their numbers.
The symphony is in four linked movements (i.e. the movements lead straight into one another with no pause between them), and includes a number of ideas that return in various guises throughout the symphony, for example the use of simultaneous chords a half-step apart, or the short-short-long rhythmic figure.
Find out more:
3rd mvt. - Scherzo
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