While catching up on some tasks around the homeplace yesterday, a mid-afternoon weariness came upon me, and so I decided to take a little siesta.
Having finished the outdoor chores, I was inside the house. WDAV was tuned in on the radio. My favorite deejay, Mike McKay, was introducing the station’s 3 pm airing of a performance by the Charlotte Symphony.
I lost track of what Mike was saying as I stretched me weary ole bones upon the floor to partake of a wee bit of personalized yoga recovery, otherwise known as dozing off while stretching.
The next thing I know, my mind was stirred in wakefulness that attended a hearing of some incredibly beautiful music.
The experience was ethereal, as if I were dreaming, and yet there I was, my conscious attention approaching some orchestral destination that was being played out in my mind, or in the airwaves, or in the room, or somewhere I’ve never been.
A little while later, I checked the WDAV website to find out what that music was that had stirred my awareness up from a necessary mid-afternoon slumber.
Now, the next day, a little Google search brings me to some comprehension about the source of yesterday’s dreamy revery: Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by theme by Thomas Tallis.
This symphonic piece was composed in 1910, and later revised in 1913 and 1919.
When I read the Wikipedia info about the dates of this music’s conception and revision, I immediately thought of the First Big War, which had happened from 1914-1918. That war has been a subject of my research for the last few years, as its aftermath pertains to the novel, Smoke, that I published last year.
The composer, a Brit, Ralfph (pronounced Rafe) Von Williams wrote the music in 1910, four years before the cataclysmic conflagration of early 20th-century European history, World War I. He later revised that music in 1913, just before the war started, and then again after the war had ended.
And I am wondering, this bright autumn Sunday afternoon, if that traumatic experience of world war might have had some effect on Mr. Williams that compelled him to revise his 9-year old masterpiece.
I think that First Big War did had an impact on this incredibly voluptuous statement of orchestral pathos, or tragedy, or whatever it is this haunting Phrygian melody imposes on my soul.
The music is similar to, and a compositional precedent to, a famous piece written two decades later by Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings (1936).
That’s another great, prescient pre-war piece of musical angst created four years before a Big War (the Second one).
Perhaps there is some composer out there today writing such a piece, but entirely new and expressive of whatever the hell is going on in our world today.
I wanted to provide a link so you can hear the piece of music that has inspired all this. So I went back to the WDAV website, which represents a great media source for classical music enrichment and enjoyment. It was there I had learned the name of the music.
I treasure WDAV and support their work with an annual contribution. However, for purposes of this online presentation I . . . long story short, stumbled upon this video:
from BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is captured for YouTube in a performance at a cathedral in England. If you watch the performance, you may agree that both the music and the setting represent the union of two elements of our profoundly great Western cultural heritage: music and church.
After composing, Vaughn Williams noted an association between this Fantasia and the message of Psalm 2:
Why are the nations in an uproar
and the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers take counsel together
against the Lord and against his Anointed?
Tags: adagio for strings, angst, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony, dream, Europe, European history, Fantasia, history, music, orchestra, pathos, Psalm 2, Ralph Von Williams, symphony, Thomas Tallis, tragedy, WDAV, World War I