Folk music plays an important part in the upbringing of most people and that is also true of composers. Both of the composers from today have a background highly influenced by the music of their lands and cultures.
Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer. He was born in Down Ampney in 1872 and died in 1958. His family history is aristocratic – his father was a prominent lawyer and his mother is from the family known for Wedgwood pottery. He is also a descendant of the Darwin family. He was taught piano and violin as a child. He was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated in both history and music. He continued musical study at Royal College where he became life-long friends with Gustav Holst.
Shortly after his marriage and a visit to Paris, he became very interested in folk song and spent a number of years collecting songs from the many small villages and towns around the country. While in Paris, he studied orchestration with Ravel and had his first piece performed – A Sea Symphony. He also was able to set his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis in 1910. After WWI broke out, he served in the military for a bit and was able to put his musical skill to a bit of use. During the war, in 1914, he wrote London Symphony and a work for violin and orchestra, The Lark Ascending.
After the war, he returned to the Royal College of Music as a professor. He remained there until 1938. During this time, though he was often considered an athiest or a “Christian agnostic”, his musical ability and knowledge of folk music made him the key person to help edit a hymnal for the Church of England. He was diligent about this project and it was very successful and well accepted. He wrote many hymns for the book, utilized many folk themes and applied text to them, and used music from previous composers, including Tallis, Gibbons, and Holst.
One of the reasons Vaughan Williams is considered such a successful composer is because his music reflects his homeland. England’s music is well represented in his compositions. Melody is clear and flowing. Harmony is bright and lovely. Holding onto the history of the music, Vaughan Williams also caught the hearts of the listeners. There is a large body of work to choose from. There are symphonies, hymns, concertos (he even wrote a concerto for the bass tuba as a virtuoso instrument!), overtures, masses, fantasias, motets, film music, and more.
Heitor Villa-Lobos is a Brazilian composer. He was born in 1887 and died in 1959. Both events were in Rio de Janiero. His father hosted weekly musical get-togethers and from this was born Villa-Lobos’ love of music. He learned to play cello by age 6. He was highly influenced by Bach’s music. He also was able to travel the country with his family and fell in love with the folk music of his native land. When he returned to Rio de Janiero, he began to find and associate with musicians playing native folk music. He also learned to play the guitar.
He left home at 18 and traveled the country. He played the cello and the guitar to support himself. He began to compose also. He eventually returned to the city and began studying the European composers which had begun to influence him at an early age. He studied hard and this influence can be heard in his early compositions. His work was featured on a concert in 1915. His work was beginning to merge the traditional Western music with the rhythmic ethnicity of Brazilian music.
Traveling to Paris in the ealry 1920s brought Villa-Lobos to the epicenter of music. He brought with him a tremendous number of works (over 2000 are credited to him at this time) but his style and his voice were still developing. He continued to study and learn and write. He returned to Brazil in 1932 when he took charge of music education for the schools in the country. He continued to travel and listen and learn, never stopping the evolution of his music.
Villa-Lobos is known for his blending of traditional Brazilian music, particularly the melodies and rhythms, with Western tradition music. Bachianas brasileiras is probably his most well-known piece. It is a set of 9 piece for various instrumental and vocal combinations incorporate a contrapuntal technique in the manner of Bach which is applied to themes of Brazilian origin. He also wrote concertos, string quartet pieces, solo instrument pieces, symphonic poems, trios, quintets, symphonies, film music, and more.
Not mentioned in many of his biographies, Villa-Lobos also wrote a large body of work for guitar. The following is a long video (over an hour) of his guitar music.
Lori, At Home.
Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B – Bernstein, Bizet, Bax
C – Copland
D – Debussy and de Meij
E – Elgar
F – Fauré
G – Grainger and Ginastera
H – Holst
I – Ives
J – Joplin and Janacek
K – Kern
L – Liszt
M – Mussorgsky
N – Nelson
O – Offenbach
P – Palestrina and Prokofiev
Q – Quilter
R – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Ravel
S – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, Sibelius
T – Tavener & Tchaikovsky
U – Ustvolskaya
Featured from last week the letter U…
- U is for Unicorn over at Our Homeschool Notebook
- Letter U Homeschool Tips from Homeschooling Highway.
Also be sure to visit others who ling up. You can the Blogging Through The Alphabet link up at Our Homeschool Notebook or Every Bed of Roses.