Dramatic Vocalise Database




Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872–1958)


Five Mystical Songs (1911)


In 1911, Vaughan Williams pursued parallel interests [as Holst’s] in the mystical/religious poetry of George Herbert (1593–1633). The premiere of the Five Mystical Songs, to text of Herbert, was conducted by Vaughan Williams in September 1911 during the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. The songs, grouped together by the composer and not the poet, are settings of intensely religious verse. According to Hubert Foss:

The Five Mystical Songs can be performed by voice and piano alone, with chorus and organ, or with orchestra. In the second and third songs, wordless choral passages foreshadow the use of dramatic vocalization in Vaughan Williams’s later works. In the second song, “I got me flowers,” the words “humming tone” appear next to the chorus parts, and a footnote further clarifies: “Not with closed lips, but with the sound of a short ‘u’ as in the word ‘but’.”




Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs, no. 2, “I got me flowers,” mm. 33–38 2




Note the similarity to Holst’s score indication for Sāvitri, “They are to sing throughout to the sound of ‘u’ in ‘sun.’” 3 In this song, the chorus only hums these two phrases before joining in with the soloist for the last phrase of text, “There is but one, and that one ever.” Here the [wordless] chorus functions as instrumental color, a different timbre, like an organ stop, and does not play a dramatic role.

In the third song, “Love bade me welcome,” the chorus, marked pppp (senza espress.), enters singing the melody of “O Sacrum Convivium” on the vowel “Ah” before and after the soloist sings the last line of text: “‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat:’ So I did sit and eat.”



Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs, no. 3, “Love bade me welcome,” mm. 64–68 4




According to Hubert Foss:

“O Sacrum Convivium” is a traditional prayer honoring the Blessed Sacrament. The implied text of the prayer reinforces the mystical meaning of Herbert’s poetry:

Ultimately, the Five Mystical Songs are more striking for what they foreshadow than for what they achieve. Wordless chorus appears as dramatic vocalization in Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony (1921), Flos Campi (1926), Riders to the Sea (1936), the film score to Scott of the Antarctic (1948), and the ensuing Sinfonia Antartica (1952). Also, a musical motive included in the third of the Five Mystical Songs recurs in many of these same pieces.




Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs, no. 3, “Love bade me welcome,” mm. 18–21 6




(Nauman 2009, 151–54)




Examples

Comments


II. “I got me flowers”


III. “Love bade me welcome”


III. “Love bade me welcome,” mm. 18–21




Footnotes


1 Hubert J. Foss, Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Study (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), 106.

2 Ralph Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs (London: Stainer & Bell, 1911), 13–14.

3 Gustav Holst, Sāvitri: An Episode from the Mahabharata, op. 25, 1.

4 Ralph Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs, 19.

5 Hubert J. Foss, Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Study, 107.

6 Ralph Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs, 16.