Classical Piece of the Week: Norfolk Rhapsody No.1

Classical Piece of the Week

Missed the last one? Here’s a link to Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor”, 2nd mvmt.

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.

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