a footnote in a composer’s life

In 1913 Ralph Vaughan Williams published a small collection of short but charming pieces for mixed choir as:

“Three Elizabethan Part Songs”

This music never attracted too much attention, which is well illustrated by the fact there is, as far as I know, only one CD-recording of it available. The little impact of these songs’ release was not only because the Great War followed shortly after, they also seem to be nothing but a few unrelated pieces from the shelf, and very long stored pieces for that. The most recent composition, Sweet Day, is from 1896, the other two are dated 1891.

The website of the RVW Society dates the partsongs 1899 (previously 1898). I therefore can’t rely on the dates 1891 & 1896 in my cd-booklet to originate from  RVW himself. And without his co-operation my research is partly based on quicksand. Who can help me out?

In 1896 Vaughan Williams was (almost) 24 and yet the music in this three pieces points allready clearly towards the mature composer, a strong indication that at least two of them have been antedated. One of the purposes of this article is therefore to present all evidence that this collection of Elizabethan partsongs is in fact not so much Victorian as Edwardian. Redating this music however, is only a side-step. More important dates are hiding under its humble appearance. The songs might be modest in scale and number, and they might lack unity, yet the ‘cycle’ established by following three little songs deserves far better than to be regarded as a footnote in a composer’s life:

Sweet Day
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine

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