Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Barbaric Splendour"

This afternoon, The Hartford Chorale, The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and the Connecticut Children’s Chorus, conducted by the Chorale's Music Director, Richard Coffey, offer the fourth and final performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Hodie.

In last night’s performance, as we sang “The March of the Three Kings,” I couldn’t help but recall the phrase “barbaric splendor,” used to describe the marvelously rich orchestration of this and the other large movements. I had come across “barbaric splendour” in the very informative Ph.D. dissertation by Paul Etters, called Ralph Vaughan Williams' Hodie: An Analysis and Performance Guide for the Choral Conductor.

This morning, I finally had a chance to sit down and read the whole thing, and it was worth the time; the dissertation combines history and analysis of music, text, orchestration, performing forces, and more. I wish I had had time to absorb it weeks ago. Still, I enjoyed learning more about the work, even in retrospect.

Here is that quote that caught my eye, along with a few other gems that Etter cites. Most are from tertiary sources. (The citation to the dissertation is at the end of the post.)

Simona Pakenham, a lover of Vaughan Williams' works and a participant at the first London performance, [on the effect of RVW’s generous orchestral scoring]: “…the barbaric splendour of this music depends upon the lavishness of the scoring … The score is for a large orchestra with a big percussion section, and includes bells, a celesta, a glockenspiel and a piano as well as the organ.” (Simona Pakenham, Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Discovery of His Music. London: MacMillan & Ltd., 1957, pp. 168, 170)

Referring to the unbridled exuberance of the first movement, Pakenham said, “The universe appears positively drunk with joy and unites in a joyful dance rhythm that, in a Cathedral, is very nearly too gay to sound quite proper.” (Pakenham, 1957, p. 171).

“It seemed to me, and a study of the score has confirmed what my ears told me, that this music has the authentic quality of old age - not of weakness, still less of senility or failing power. There is as much vigor, of spirit and execution, as there was in the music of the Vaughan Williams of twenty years ago. But it has something else, which I can only call the fullness of wisdom - a spiritual tranquility that is not mere resignation, and a simplicity that is grander than any intricacy of performance or bold and exultant splendor of expression. There is something here that is other-worldly, withdrawn from the hurly-burly - or rather, transcending it. It is the music of old age in the truest sense, the final maturity of a great mind. It breathes a deep peace of soul.” (J.H. Elliot, Halle Magazine, 1954)

In The March of the Three Kings, the orchestra is heard, “coming from a distance growing, barbaric, touched with points of gold from the cymbal clashes, rising in excitement.” (Pakenham, 1957, p. 175)

[The end of the entire work] is the point at which one dearly wishes all the audience could leap to their feet and add their voices to the universal song... [Vaughan Williams] builds to his climax, brings in every resource he has in a tremendous explosion of delight, and breaks off cleanly at the peak with a loud shout. (Pakenham, 1957, pp. 176-7)

“The work ends in a blaze of exuberant, ingenuous sound.” (Day, 1998, p. 143)

Etter, Paul James. Ralph Vaughan Williams' Hodie: An Analysis and Performance Guide for the Choral Conductor. Dissertation, Texas Tech University, 2002.

Come hear the final performance. Come early to catch the pre-concert lecture on Vaughan Williams Hodie; Mr. Coffey and Dr. Alain Frogley, an internationally-renowned expert on the life and music of Vaughan Williams, will share the lecture duties.


You can read all my posts about this music here:


Hartford Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series
with Richard Coffey, guest conductor
Stephanie Gilbert, soprano; Eric Barry, tenor; Eric Downs, bass-baritone
Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Hartford Chorale - Richard Coffey, music director
Connecticut Children’s Chorus - Stuart Younse, artistic director
Sunday, December 4, 2011 • 3:00 p.m.
Belding Theater • The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

Mikhail Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 1 from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie

Ticket Information
Tickets range in price from $35.50-$70.50.
Student tickets are $10

To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.