Like Beethoven, Bruckner and Dvořák, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) belongs to the ‘ninth club’, the small coterie of 19th- and 20th-century composers who have clocked up nine symphonies. Indeed, Vaughan Williams composed five of his nine symphonies in the last 15 years of his life. Like Mahler, he was not averse to including voices in his symphonies – two of them, A Sea Symphony (Symphony No 1) and Sinfonia antarctica (Symphony No 7) include chorus and vocal soloist(s). But today Vaughan Williams is less remembered for his symphonies than for his single movement works for orchestra (such as The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis), the song ‘Linden Lea’ and song cycle On Wenlock Edge. As these titles indicate, he had a strong interest in English folk music and English music of the 16th century. Vaughan Williams studied briefly with Max Bruch and Maurice Ravel and was himself a notable teacher, holding the position of professor of composition at London’s Royal College of Music between 1919 and 1939.

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