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August 02, 2005
Musical Find

I like to think of myself as a fairly well-educated fellow, as far as the arts are concerned. I'm not an expert of any kind, but I appreciate good music when I hear it, particularly classical music, and I think I have at least a passing familiarity with most of the noteworthy composers.

Every now and then, however, I discover the work of a particular artist or composer I'd never heard (or perhaps simply not noticed) before. One such is Vaughan Williams.

While watching the film Master And Commander I was struck by the quality of the soundtrack, but I assumed that all the music therein was of the period depicted in the film (early 1800s) or was composed specifically for the film. I was surprised, then, to learn that the one piece of music in the film that most caught my attention was in fact composed in 1910.

Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is simply the most stunning "new-found" piece of music I have heard in a very very long time. How it has escaped my attention over the years is a complete mystery to me.

Perhaps adding to the evocative power of the piece is the way in which it was used in the film. At a critical point, the Captain must choose to sacrifice the life of one of his crew in order to save the ship. He acts quickly, but not alone; he enlists the aid of another crewman – the doomed man's best friend. As death approaches for the unfortunate sailor at the hands of his Captain and of his friend, Vaughan's Fantasia swells, and is enough to make the viewer forget to breathe.

Yes, it's that powerful.

Not a believer? Here's a sound clip: Download file (440Kbytes, 56 seconds – sorry, I had to cut the sample rate down to conserve space. The bass doesn't come through too well, I'm afraid.)

As chance would have it, after I clipped the sound file last night and before I finished writing this "review," Esgaroth over at Tributaries posted her take on the matter, complete with some very good links to information on the Fantasia and on Tallis' original work. It's well worth checking out.

In the future, I intend to listen to a good deal more of Williams' work.

Posted by Russ at 05:15 PM, August 2, 2005 in Music

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A glass of wine with you!

Posted by: Sharon Ferguson at August 2, 2005 05:25 PM

You might also want to try Vaughn Williams' Greensleeves Fantasy. I'll probably get pelted with rocks and garbage for saying this, but I've always thought his derivative works like these pieces were better than his original music, although I also enjoy his "Wasps" Overture.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at August 2, 2005 06:06 PM

Oh, and if you're a real hardcore O'Brian fan, you might want to check out an album called A Musical Evening With The Captain. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00000083U/002-2016829-2967261?v=glance

Some people went and put together a sampling of period pieces by Locatelli, Bocherinni, Haydn and the like.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at August 2, 2005 06:10 PM

You know, I heard that piece on the local classical station a few months back, and really enjoyed it, while thinking I'd heard it somewhere before. And now you're reminded me I heard a peice as I was falling asleep last night that I loved. Must research it!

Posted by: Ith at August 2, 2005 06:58 PM

Okay, this is odd. I went to my station's "what did I hear" page, and found the one from last night. It's the same composer! Huh.

10:43: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Five variants of 'Dives and Lazarus' (New Queen's Hall Orchestra/Wordsworth, Barry) ARGO 440 116-2

Posted by: Ith at August 2, 2005 07:02 PM

It's weird - it never rains, but it pours. Same thing happened to me when I discovered (don't laugh) Fountains of Wayne - suddenly it seemed like I was running into their stuff everywhere (and I'm not a radio listener at all.)

Posted by: Russ at August 2, 2005 07:27 PM

i would recomend his "dona nobis pacem" (i could send you a recording of it if you would like, i sang it in the dallas symphony chorus last season, which was a little rough with my hubby being in the 'stan, and it still gives me chills)

Posted by: maggie katzen at August 12, 2005 12:43 AM