16 August 2022
Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Tuesday 16 August 2022
I am staying in Sheffield, where I have a consultation later today (16 August) with the Steretactic Radiosurgery Team at Royal Hallamshire Hospital. This follows my stroke five months ago (18 March 2022) and, hopefully, is in advance of a procedure in the weeks ahead.
But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:
1, One of the readings for the morning;
2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
The Gospel reading at the Eucharist this morning in the Lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:
Matthew 19: 23-30 (NRSVA):
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’
27 Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ 28 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
Today’s reflection: ‘From far, from eve and morning’
Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.
Throughout this week, I am listening to On Wenlock Edge, a setting by Vaughan Williams of six poems from AE Housman’s Shropshire Lad.
I was recalling yesterday [15 August 2022] that I was first introduced to the music of Vaughan Williams when I was a 19-year-old and I was staying in Wilderhope Manor on Wenlock Edge in Shropshire in what became my first memorable introduction to the great English composers.
I spent some time on Wenlock Edge and in the neighbouring villages before hitch-hiking back to Lichfield – a journey of about 50 miles. Back in Lichfield, I experienced a self-defining moment in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and was invited for the first time to the Folk Masses in the Dominican Retreat Centre at Spode House, near Rugeley, about six miles north of Lichfield.
Ever since, the music of Vaughan Williams, especially his setting in On Welock Edge, have been associated with my understanding of spiritual growth and development.
This morning [16 August 2022], I am listening to ‘From far, from eve and morning,’ the second of the six settings by Vaughan Williams of these poems by AE Housman (1859-1936), published in 1896.
In reacting to the Boer War, in which his brother Herbert was killed, Housman powerfully anticipated the horror and futility of World War I, and his poems would find fresh relevance of with the outbreak of World War I.
His landscape is a mythical, idealised Shropshire, similar to the Wessex of the novels of Thomas Hardy. His dominant themes are love, and a post-industrial pastoral nostalgia, infused with expressions of disillusionment at the sacrifice of the young soldiers going to war, never to return.
Vaughan Williams composed On Wenlock Edge – a cycle of six songs for tenor, piano and string quartet – in 1909, a year after he had spent three months in Paris studying under Maurice Ravel, a composer three years younger than him. The first performance took place in the Aeolian Hall, London, later that year.
In the 1920s, Vaughan Williams made an arrangement of On Wenlock Edge for full orchestra that was first performed on 24 January 1924 by John Booth, with the composer conducting. Vaughan Williams preferred this version to his original.
The second of these songs, ‘From far, from eve and morning,’ is No 32 in Housman’s original sequence. The late Trevor Hold of Leicester University (Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-composers, 2002) describes this song as one of Vaughan Williams’s ‘finest achievements.’
Here, after the elaborate accompaniment of the opening song, ‘On Wenlock Edge,’ Vaughan Williams turns to what he describes as ‘utmost simplicity: wide-spreading piano chords underpin a vocal line that never strays far from its home note (B natural) …’
2, From far, from eve and morning
From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.
Now – for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart –
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What you have in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.
Today’s Prayer, Tuesday 16 August 2022:
The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Human Trafficking in Durgapur.’ This them was introduced on Sunday by Raja Moses, Project Co-ordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project, Diocese of Durgapur, Church of North India.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
We pray for the work of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project in the Diocese of Durgapur. May we support this initiative to identify human trafficking and support victims of human trafficking.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org