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Title:Aspects of national identity in the art songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams before the Great War
Author(s):Clark, Renee
Director of Research:Bashford, Christina
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Bashford, Christina
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Magee, Gayle Sherwood; Kellman, Herbert; Alwes, Chester L.
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958
Ralph Vaughan Williams--musical settings
Art song--history and criticism
Song--English, 20th century
English national identity
Abstract:This dissertation explores how the art songs of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed before the Great War expressed the composer’s vision of “Englishness” or “English national identity”. These terms can be defined as the popular national consciousness of the English people. It is something that demands continual reassessment because it is constantly changing. Thus, this study takes into account two key areas of investigation. The first comprises the poets and texts set by the composer during the time in question. The second consists of an exploration of the cultural history of British and specifically English ideas surrounding pastoralism, ruralism, the trope of wandering in the countryside, and the rural landscape as an escape from the city. This dissertation unfolds as follows. The Introduction surveys the literature on Vaughan Williams and his songs in particular on the one hand, and on the other it surveys a necessarily selective portion of the vast literature of English national identity. The introduction also explains the methodology applied in the following chapters in analyzing the music as readings of texts. The remaining chapters progress in the chronological order of Vaughan Williams’s career as a composer. Chapter Two considers the three Barnes songs composed between 1901 and 1903 and published in The Vocalist. The chapter argues that these songs, in pitting the rural against the urban as seen in salient aspects of their music, epitomize Vaughan Williams’s engagement with the contemporary “Back-to-the-Land” movement. Chapter Three examines the Songs of Travel (text by Robert Louis Stevenson). This chapter argues is that Vaughan Williams’s 1904 song cycle displays the composer’s fascination with the figure of the gypsy, and the life of the wanderer-- preoccupations that were characteristic of the gypsophilia of the day—represented in his music by such figures as a tramping motive and a rhythmic fingerprint. Chapter Four is dedicated to the 1909 cycle On Wenlock Edge (text by A. E. Housman). Once again, this cycle pits country against city. It also confronts modern with Roman Britain and introduces other icons of Englishness, in particular the church. All this marks a new development in Vaughan Williams’s progress as a song composer, namely the introduction of ideas associated with pastoralism and the difficulties of the rural life. Chapter Five discusses the critical change in the composer’s work caused by the Great War. Despite continuities in Vaughan Williams’s composition that would persist throughout his career, these years saw a shift in focus towards themes of mortality and spirituality, and new musical techniques.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Renée Chérie Clark
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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