Bthe time when Vaughan Williams was composing his music for the 1948 film Scott of Antarcticathis tale of heroic endeavor had long since passed into English mythology – not having been the first team of explorers to reach the South Pole, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his colleagues froze to death on their return journey , just 11 miles from safety.
After completing the film’s score, Vaughan Williams felt added mileage both in its underlying theme of humanity battling the elements and in the range of musical ideas he had already come up with. The result was the five shotsis lying Sinfonia Antarctica – the seventh of his nine symphonies, in which he returns, with age-old mastery, to the free-form, suite-form method he had used in A marine symphony four decades earlier. A soprano soloist, female choir, organ and wind machine are all part of the orchestral arsenal.
When Vaughan Williams compose Symphony No. 7 “Sinfonia Antartica”?
Vaughan Williams composed Symphony No. 7 “Sinfonia Antartica” between 1949 and 1952, and premiered on July 14, 1953 at the Free Trade Hall. It was performed by Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
The seventh of Vaughan Williamsit is symphonies is based on the score he composed in 1947-48 for the film Ealing Studios, Scott of Antarctica, about Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912.
He wrote a lot of the music without seeing any movies because he was so taken with the subject and the possibilities of depicting snow and blizzards. He was also appalled at the incompetence of much of the planning for the expedition.
The film was shown in 1948, and in June 1949 he asked for the score to be returned to him so that he could continue what he was already calling Sinfonia Antarctica. But his work was interrupted by revisions to his long-gestating opera, The pilgrim’s journey, and preparations for its world premiere at Covent Garden in 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. Shortly after, his wife, Adeline, died.
He was also working on a Concerto Grosso for strings, a cantata, The Sons of Light, with lyrics by Ursula, the Romance in D flat for harmonica, strings and piano, written for Larry Adler and the Fancy on the ‘Old 104th’ Psalmfor piano, choir and orchestra.
For the following year, 1952, several concerts were planned to mark the composer’s 80th birthday on October 12. In tribute to Vaughan WilliamsSir John Barbirolli conducted the six extant symphonies during the 1951-2 season of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.
How was Vaughans Symphony No. 7 ‘Sinfonia Antarctica
Vaughan Williams took the complete score to Manchester in March 1952 to show it to Barbirolli, who later recounted that “Vaughan Williams was loath to show it to me, for he feared I would not like it and wanted to spare me the embarrassment of to say it ” .
The symphony was performed on sight by Hallé’s pianist, Rayson Whalley, a feat that amazed the composer. There was another full reading in November and nine hours of rehearsal. After the first performance, two months later, Vaughan Williams said it was his “first flawless first performance” and dubbed Barbirolli “Glorious John”. The day before he left for Manchester for the first performance, Vaughan Williams asked Ursula Wood to marry him, which she did on February 7.
The first performance was a resounding success and was attended by Scott’s son, Peter, the artist and naturalist. Although there has been some debate as to whether Antarctic was a symphony or suite of film music, one prominent reviewer noted the “masterful and completely unified symphonic form” of the work.
The use of the wind machine and wordless female voices to describe polar winds and ice, the climax of the organ in the glacier sequence, and the depiction of whales and penguins captured the imagination of the audience from the start.
Perhaps the germ of Antarctic you could say that he is in Vaughan Williamsopera in one act sea riders, another example of man against nature. The shrill voices of women mourning a drowned man anticipate the mute voices of the Antarctic winds.
Best recordings of Symphony No. 7 “Sinfonia Antartica” by Vaughan Williams
Sir Adrian Boult (conductor)
Norma Burrowes (op); London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra (1970)
EMI 903 5672 (part of a 13 CD set)
INFONIA ANTARTICA’S WIDE range of ideas and musical devices make it a delicate job to complete with complete success. The opening Prelude and the tragedy Epilogue call for grand interpretation, while convincingly bringing together a sequence of loosely related musical ideas. Then there are the three central movements – a Scherzo depicting whales and penguins, a central CountrysideAnd one Intermezzo (where Scott writes a letter to his wife) – requiring wry humour, a Sibelius-like mastery of large-scale nature depiction, and sweet romantic melancholy.
Made in 1970, the second of Adrian Boult’s two (right) Sinfonia Antarctica studio recordings have its trademark and tight rhythm. It is also the only one, in modern or modern recorded sound, that excels in the five very different movements of the work. the Preludemarking the tempo of Andante maestoso calls for heroic greatness without omen – a tough ask, and Boult does it better than anyone. Frozen waste from Countryside are portrayed with additional sadness; and while other versions convey the EpilogueBoult’s final tragedy, Boult’s focused interpretation is one that really leaves you unsettled. Leading the silent female choir evoking the landscape, Norma Burrowes’ delivery of the soprano part – beautiful and emotionally detached – is the best ever recorded.
VErnon Handley (conductor)
Alison Hargan (sop); Royal Philharmonic Choir, RLPO (1990)
EMI 575 7602 (part of a 7 CD set)
Vernon Handley’s 1990 recording features fine digital sound, revealing a phenomenal range of detail in the virtuoso score, as well as massive power in the big moments. It also excels in its grandiose portrayal of human struggle: Handley’s choice of tempo in the Prelude is closer to Adagio that Andantebut the effect is memorable (just like the Scherzorambunctious penguins). The party track on this record is the highlight of Countrysideor one fortissimo the organ solo depicts an imposing wall of ice blocking the path of explorers. Recorded separately in Liverpool Cathedral and dubbed, the result is incredibly loud and impressive. Cons include Handley’s not-so-subtle Intermezzoand Alison Hargan’s gorgeous, but overly sexy soprano solo.
Andrew Davis (conductor)
Patricia Rozario (sop); BBC Chorus and Symphony Orchestra (1996)
Warner Classics 2564 698483 (part of a 6 CD set)
Davis’ approach to Sinfonia AntarcticaThe musical panorama of is the opposite of that of Handley. No other interpretation brings out so tellingly the connection between Debussy and Ravel in Vaughan Williams’ score – as in the poignant Intermezzo, where Davis’ fine touch is the mark of an experienced opera conductor responding to the moment. The refined orchestral playing is enhanced by the acoustics of St Augustine’s Church in London, spacious and beautifully clear; and from the organ solo in Countryside is recorded there too, its grandeur avoids the surreal element of Handley’s recording. But in the Prelude and EpilogueDavis’ instinct to avoid bombast too much undermines the heroic tone of the music.
André Prévin (conductor)
Heather Harper (sop), Ralph Richardson (speaker); Ambrosian Singers, London Symphony Orchestra (1969)
RCA 8287 6557082
Previn’s 1969 recording includes the written superscriptions – by Shelley, the biblical psalmist, Coleridge, Donne and Scott himself – with which Vaughan Williams prefaced Sinfonia Antarctica, but a fairly correct idea in principle is overturned by Sir Ralph Richardson’s melodramatic delivery. Previn’s direction fits well with the epic manner of the music: while his choice of tempo for the Prelude Andante maestoso is Adagio-large, the resumption of the main theme of the movement towards the end of the Epilogue is powerful. There are countless beautiful moments, including the ethereal flute solo in Countryside. There are also blind spots, as in Preludethe premonition of Captain Oates’ death – a heavy chord sequence that lacks menace. And soprano Heather Harper portamento the scoops do not convince.