Accompanied by the Camerata Salzburg, an Austrian chamber orchestra based in Salzburg, Austria, American classical violinist Hilary Hahn performs the popular Ralph Vaughn Williams masterpiece “The Lark Ascending”. Conductor: Louis Langrée. Recorded at the 2013 George Enescu Festival.
The Lark Ascending
The Lark Ascending is a poem of 122 lines by the English poet George Meredith (12 February 1828 – 18 May 1909) about the song of the skylark. The poem inspired the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958) to write a musical work of the same name, which is now more widely known than the poem.
It was originally composed in 1914 for violin and piano. Vaughan Williams completed The Lark Ascending in 1914 for violinist Marie Hall (8 April 1884 – 11 November 1956), with whom he consulted on the solo part. After a thorough revision in 1920, she first played it in a violin-piano arrangement in Shirehampton Public Hall in December 1920. The first performance of the orchestral version was in London, at a Queen’s Hall concert in June 1921, during the second Congress of the British Music Society.
The writing for the violin mimics the “silver chain of sound…In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake” described by Meredith, though of course it also carries the main melodic argument. A brief cadence of soft chords from winds and strings discreetly usher in the first flight of the soloist, who rhapsodizes without accompaniment on a folk-like theme of considerable plasticity. The orchestra then quietly enters, and the first theme is developed organically until the section closes with a reprise of the solo cadenza.
A more straightforward folk theme on woodwinds begins the middle section, which has been likened to the pastoral countryside over which the lark soars; the violin’s free descant over the orchestra certainly underscores that impression.
A magical moment ensues when solo woodwinds evoke a panoply of birdsong under the busy rustling of the violin; the effect is like a choir of birds led by the virtuoso lark. A note of sadness and nostalgia informs the reprise of the first section, and the piece ends with one more cadenza from the violin, whose song circles ever higher into the upper reaches of the instrument until it more disappears than ends; as quoted by Meredith, “Till lost on his aerial rings / In light, and then the fancy sings.”
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instills,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.
- The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) on Wikipedia