Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending (Violin: Janine Jansen)

Janine Jansen plays the popular Ralph Vaughn Williams masterpiece “The Lark Ascending”. From the BBC Proms 2003, Royal Albert Hall.

Janine Jansen plays her 1727 Stradivari “Barrere” violin in the clip above, on extended loan by the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Marie Hall
Marie Pauline Hall

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 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 from 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 instils,
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.

Janine Jansen
Janine Jansen

Janine Jansen (born 7 January 1978 in Soest in the Netherlands) is a violinist and violist. She began to study the violin at age 6. Her father and both her brothers are also musicians. Her mother is a classical singer and is a sister of the bass Peter Kooy. Jansen studied with Coosje Wijzenbeek, Philippe Hirschhorn, and Boris Belkin.

She appeared as soloist with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland in 2001, where she performed the Brahms Violin Concerto. She opened the BBC Proms in 2005.

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