By Ralph Vaughan-Williams
Composed in 1914
Both Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Ralph Vaughan-Williams were intensely interested in the folk music of their native soil. Each composer attempted to create a distinctive national style by incorporating local folk tunes, rhythms, and harmonies into their art.
The two works that we are to hear today are excellent examples of this process. “The Lark Ascending” draws its inspiration from the mysticism of the English countryside, setting several folk tunes in a quiet manner, conveying a calm, peaceful and transcendent mood to the listener, with the solo violin observing and commenting on the scene from afar. The work begins and ends with meditative reveries from the solo violin.
The “Fantasy on Russian Themes” sets the solo violin in an active mode, with the brilliance and power to compete directly with an exuberant orchestra. Here, too, the violin is given solo moments of an improvisational nature, but rather than the inward-looking ruminations of the “Lark,” we are presented with what are merely lyric interruptions in an otherwise boisterous, robust scene of a country gathering. Here joyous peasants participate in the highly social activities of dancing, singing and drinking among family and friends.
The two works together are an interesting study in contrast, and provide an enchanting view into two artistic minds as they envision a showcase for the solo violin.