Music creates an atmosphere, does it not? If so, then the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams could not stray any closer to truth. This week, I have picked the only orchestral rhapsody he has completed: Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 in E Minor, composed in 1906 and revised in 1914.
Vaughn Williams wrote three orchestra rhapsodies in total: the second was left in fragmented forms and completed by other musical hands, while the third was discarded by 1920, and is now lost (placements are fluid however, that is a human’s hope).
A short introduction to rhapsodies: Rhapsody is derived from the Greek word rhapsōidos, which describes a reciter of epic poetry (a rhapsodist). In the 16th century, it came to use in Europe as a literary form, for a collection of miscellaneous writings. Later, it also became designated to term an extravagant expression of sentiment or feeling. Both of these definitions helped the rhapsody grow a musical arm, in the 18th century. Its musical definition is a one-movement work that is “episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality” (thanks Wikipedia).
Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 begins with an unassuming call through the strings’ fog. Here, peaks the paws of the harp; there, runs the tail of the clarinet. The haze is cleared by the entrance of a beautiful viola solo; nature dissipates its power. Through swells of sound, the music never loses air of untouched landscape. The landscape of earth and water.
A second variation comes to play around the 7 minute mark. The lower strings begin with distant foot steps, then: a clash of cymbals and pirates. Brass, woodwinds and string join together for a lovely fanfare held together by the perpetuity of the snare. Dense lines unravel to form lighter lines, then ravel back together to reach a peak of pure harmony. The strings’ opening atmosphere presents itself again. And then, the sun through the clouds and onto the land and sea: a single trumpet, expressed with clarity… The music drifts back into the fog.
For the dreamers in all of us.