|Ralph Vaughan Williams |
The first thing to point out is the title: A Pastoral Symphony. Why did Ralph Vaughan Williams call in this way the “symphony” dedicated to the World War of 1914-1918? At the war’s outbreak the musician, who was 41, enlisted as a private of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The theatre of his personal war was France. We find today poor notes about his war experience immediately after his return to civilian life but we know the composition of this symphony came to an end in summer of 1921. So we can assume that immediately after his comeback Vaughan Williams worked intensively to his particular “pastoral” sound. At this point we go back to the title that seems to deceive critics and commentators of the time (and of our time as well). No word about the Great War, no direct connection with it. But the scoring of this symphony, partially revised thirty years later, is fully dedicated to the war trauma and to the inner desolation of war. We know from some writings addressed to Ursula, his future wife, that this symphony was really “wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Écoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset”.