Date d'ajout : vendredi 21 septembre 2012
par James Lyon
REVUE : The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Journal, February 2012
I am a Swiss hymnologist, a member of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, a lover of English music generally and that of Vaughan Williams in particular.
1 study particular1y the sources of tunes. For me, a French speaker, the English word "tune" takes on quite a particular meaning. Imogen Holst (1907-1984), in her valuable book, manages to give an extremely precise definition. It was in the same spirit that I wrote a book dedicated to the melodies which Johann Sebastian Bach borrowed for his chorales.
In 2006, during two Prom concerts in London, I heard the music of Vaughan Williams, Janâcek and Sibelius. My hymnologist's heart and ears vibrated ! I realised how their intimate understanding of melody could reunite them. It was then that I decided to apply myself to a project which was to result in a book devoted to them.
The task was not easy, I began by writing an article. I wanted to be able to understand their respective lives, their choices and their thoughts. I had the idea that part of the book should be entitled "an intermingled biographical journey". This became the first chapter of the book, and the work was fascinating to undertake. I introduced several of the composers' own writings. I think that those of Vaughan Williams are translated into French for the first time.
The other nine chapters fall into three parts, each part devoted to one of the three master composers. The first chapter of each part deals with melodic sources, and the other two discuss two works by each musician.
As regards Vaughan Williams, however, I proceeded in a slightly different way. Chapter 7 is concemed with the notion of folklore such as it was understood and described by William John Thorns (1803-1885) in 1846. From there, I concentrated on the predecessors of Vaughan Williams on the subject; in .other words, on folk song according to Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), Lucy Etheldred Broadwood (1858-1929) and Cecil James Sharp (1859-1924). I analysed several tunes 'collected by these remarkable folklorists and hymnologists. […]
1 conclude this long seventh chapter with Vaughan Williams' own beautiful contribution, his first collected folk song, on Friday 4 December 1903, from the moving voice of Charles Potiphar (1829-1909), Bushes and Briars. Finally, and quite naturally for a hymnologist, the chapter ends by examining the link between these folk melodies and hymns, leading to much of the main body of the English Hymnal in 1906.
Chapters 8 and 9 are essentially concerned with The Pilgrim s Progress, first, John Bunyan's work, then the "Morality" by Vaughan Williams. I also wished to deal with the sensitive and complex question concerning Puritanism and music. For that purpose, I made particular reference to the remarkable study by Percy Alfred Scholes (1877-1958) which puts things in perspective. Bunyan's text is psychologically deep and the music of Vaughan Williams translates it in exemplary fashion. However, the first performance of the work, on 26 April 1951 at Covent Garden, provoked much debate, crystallised in the very interesting correspondence between the composer and the musicologist Edward Joseph Dent (1876-1957), translated into French at the end of my chapter 9.
The links between Vaughan Williams, the main subject of my book, and the other two composers gradually emerge from the study. AlI value melody as such, independent of harmony, as an ancient source. They agree on the importance of folklore in the noblest and the most scientific sense of the term as conceived by Thorns. This is why I quote the beautiful aphorism of Vaughan William at the beginning of my book: "A good folklorist requires to be scientifically accurate, artistically imaginative and humanly sympathetic ... " He refers, moreover, to the moral dimension which he no doubt inherited from bis respected teacher Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918).
Janacek and Vaughan Williams associate music with truth. The two did not really know each other personally, except from Janacek's visit to London in the spring of 1926. Vaughan Williams appreciated the music of his Moravian colleague, but he had closer ties with Sibelius.
At the end of the day, I am convinced that these three master composers shared a common ideal, strongly rooted in the notion of culture such as Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and the Austrian psychologist Paul Diel (1893-1972) conceived it in their different ways. They complement each other harmoniously.
Janacek associated the inner man, his psyche, with his melodic choices. His writings, of real scientific value, bear particular witness to this.
Sibelius, less involved in folk music research, translated into sound in masterly fashion the Finnish epic of Kalevala. He insisted on the importance, for a composer, of respecting the melodies of one's cultural origins.
Finally, Vaughan Williams, uniquely, gathers together those indispensable qualities particularly appreciated by a hymnologist: simplicity, sincerity and serenity.