The Hallé Records Vaughan Williams

CDHLL7540This month, conductor Sir Mark Elder and the Manchester, UK-based Hallé Orchestra released the latest in a series of recordings of the music of twentieth century English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The recording includes Vaughan William’s Pastoral SymphonyFantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus” and The Wasps Overture. You can browse through the orchestra’s extensive discography here.

The Hallé’s long association with the music of Vaughan Williams extends back to the mid-century tenure of conductor Sir John Barbirolli, a friend and champion of the composer. In 1956, Barbirolli and the orchestra gave the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ Eighth Symphony.

Written in 1910, the hazy and ethereal Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is built on an English Renaissance hymn melody. Listen to Tallis’ original music from 1567, “Why Fum’th in Fight?” here.

This music is spacial. A string orchestra is divided into three antiphonal sections (the full orchestra, a smaller group made up of the first stands of each section, and a string quartet), evoking the sections of a pipe organ. Listen to the way this piece seems to float through time, moving to unpredictable places and capturing a sense of mystery:

A Pastoral Symphony was completed in 1922. Its title doesn’t refer to the serene English countryside. Instead, the music can be heard as an elegy to the dead of World War I. Listen to the first movement here.

Overture: The Wasps was written in 1909 as incidental music for a Trinity College production of Aristophanes’ play. You may hear occasional echoes of a future Hollywood film sound in this music.

With Watch Magazine, Music Meets Marketing

Watch! Magazine
Watch Magazine

There was a time when major networks, such as CBS and NBC, employed their own orchestras (watch this clip of Arturo Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony) and television shows included a full minute of credits, accompanied by theme music. Revisit the opening of Cheers, compare it to the fast pace of today’s media and consider what we’ve lost. TV theme music allowed for reflection (even if it wasn’t deep reflection) and established the atmosphere of the show.

Interestingly, as media moves online, CBS’s Watch Magazine may be taking a step back in the direction of musical branding. The entertainment and lifestyle magazine recently hired English violinist Charlie Siem to compose and perform a soundtrack, which will be used for marketing and promotion. You can see how the music fits the branding concept here:

Siem’s music draws upon influences from Philip Glass to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Listen to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas TallisElgar’s Serenade for String Orchestra in E minor Op.20, and Finzi’s Prelude for String Orchestra in F minor Op. 25  for a sample of the rich English string orchestra tradition which Siem modeled.

Charlie Siem’s Canopy was recorded last December at St. Silas the Martyr Church in London. Siem is joined by the English Chamber Orchestra:

[quote]We like to think the magazine is elegant and refined and glamorous and this music hits those highlights.[/quote]

-Jeremy Murphy, Watch editor in chief