Dramatic Vocalise Database

Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872–1958)

The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947)

Vaughan Williams . . . used textless voices for a film score, The Loves of Joanna Godden—the score that immediately preceded Scott. The unseen voices in Joanna Godden surface during one scene alone: the macabre drowning of Joanna’s fiancé, Martin, during a visit to Dungeness. The build-up to the climactic scene has some wonderfully dramatic moments, the most interesting of which occurs when Joanna says to Martin, ‘Perhaps it’s the place, but I feel frightened.’ Martin then kisses her, accompanied by no music whatsoever. The lack of Joanna’s theme during this moment of passion foreshadows the approaching tragedy. While the choir only has a brief appearance in the film—first creeping into the soundtrack in thirds, with the trumpets, as Joanna lies down on the beach and Martin goes swimming—their remarkably unusual affect compelled Vaughan Williams to use them again in his very next assignment from Ealing. Associated with the water that kills Martin, like the sea that destroys Maura’s husband and sons in Riders to the Sea, we can see that the wordless choir has become a trope for the composer, representing the idea of ‘man against nature’ which comes up repeatedly in Vaughan Williams’s works, and which would be a central theme of Scott.” 1


1 Daniel Goldmark, “Music, Film and Vaughan Williams,” in Vaughan Williams Essays, eds. Byron Adams and Robin Wells (Aldershot, Hants; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 225.