2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2.2 - 4231 - timp - perc(2): tgl/2 susp.cym (medium, large)/tam-t/SD/BD - harp - strings


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Programme Notes

In 2014, Simon Coombs, Chairman of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, asked me if I could reconstruct Vaughan Williams’s Third Norfolk Rhapsody, the score of which is lost. Vaughan Williams wrote the piece in 1906, based on four folksongs he had collected in Norfolk in January 1905. Of the three Norfolk Rhapsodies he composed between 1905 and 1906, No.1 was substantially rewritten in 1914, No.2 was withdrawn after its second performance at the Queen’s Hall in London in 1912, but a full score exists and it has recently been revived. No.3 was also performed in the same concert in 1912, but the score has been lost: possibly Vaughan Williams sent it to Germany together with the London Symphony just before the First World War began. The London Symphony was reconstructed from the parts, but not the Third Norfolk Rhapsody; why the parts of that have also disappeared is a mystery.

The programme note by W.A. Morgan for the premiere of the Third Rhapsody in Cardiff in 1907 gives a detailed description of the work. It reads as follows:

Rhapsody No.3 . . . takes the form of a quick March and Trio, prefaced by an introduction of 29 bars founded on ‘The Lincolnshire Farmer’, after which the tune is heard in its complete form by the oboe, as the opening theme of the movement, and then repeated tutti. Following on, the piccolo, clarinet and side-drum give the tune of ‘John Raeburn’, which is repeated by the full orchestra; then, after a restatement of ‘The Lincolnshire Farmer’ we come to the Trio, founded on the two tunes ‘Ward the Pirate’ and ‘The Red Barn’. The Trio bridges right into a passage resembling the introduction, when we have a recapitulation of ‘John Raeburn’, but this time heard in conjunction with a syncopated figure on the brass. The strings continue the rhythm of ‘John Raeburn’ while the horns play ‘The Red Barn’, interrupted from time to time by the syncopated brass figure. A fortissimo climax is suddenly broken by the appearance of ‘Ward the Pirate’ pianissimo, accompanied by a long crescendo roll on the side drum. The crescendo is gradually contributed to by the whole orchestra, which finally joins forces and plays ‘Ward the Pirate’ fortissimo and largamente. This brings the movement to an end, and leads to a few bars of coda, presto, founded on ‘The Lincolnshire Farmer’.

I have followed this programme note for the most part as accurately as I could (I begin with a 29 bar introduction in an approximation to Vaughan Williams’s style). The treatment of the four folksongs in the first half of the piece, up to the end of the Trio, with straightforward repetitions in varied scoring, is perhaps more characteristic of Grainger. Up to this point the mood of the piece has been carefree: soldiers marching gaily off to war. But in this centenary of the worst year of the First World War, thoughts of what might have happened to those soldiers in 1916 caused me to make a drastic change from what Vaughan Williams would have done. Though I do not stray far from the programme note, the piece becomes suddenly dark and sinister, and the ‘fortissimo and largamente’ statement of ‘Ward the Pirate’ is a grim funeral march. My coda begins with a wistful recollection of ‘The Lincolnshire Farmer’ on solo violin, but ending with a kind of ‘last post’ on the trumpets, deliberately recalling Vaughan Williams’s trumpet solo in his Pastoral Symphony, his own First World War statement.

Norfolk March was commissioned by the RVW Society with support from the RVW Trust and the John S Cohen Foundation. It is dedicated to Simon Coombs.    

© DM


‘It begins as totally plausible Vaughan Williams pastiche, then takes a much darker, more dissonant turn, boiling up into an Ives-like concatenation of ideas before subsiding to an uneasy close.’
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 30 May 2016

Norfolk March

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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze

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RSNO Centre (Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates

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Introduced by a Classic FM presenter NOTE

Pavilion Theatre (Bournemouth, United Kingdom)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Victor Aviat

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afternoon on 3

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates

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Dorchester Abbey (Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom)

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