Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:34 PM

"There [is] a feeling of recognition, as of meeting an old friend, which comes to us all in the face of great artistic experiences. I had the same experience when I first heard an English folksong, when I first saw Michelangelo's Day and Night, when I suddenly came upon Stonehenge or had my first sight of New York City – the intuition that I had been there already."
--Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

It's late November 1989. Patrick and I are sitting in my room at my mom's old house in Orem, Utah, making wedding plans. I've got my little pink clock radio tuned to KBYU; Bach Partitas and Chopin Preludes play softly in the background. We're busy figuring out logistics for the ceremony itself (to be held in Salt Lake City) and our two small receptions: one in Provo, Utah, and one in Englewood, New Jersey.

All at once, I become distracted from our conversation by the most beautiful piece of music I've ever heard. Patrick and I sit and listen, bewitched. The gorgeous waves of sound transcend the poor radio's tinny speaker and wrap us in a bubble of timelessness. When the piece ends, we both exhale at the same time; it seems as though we've been holding our breath for several minutes.

The announcer, in the mellow tones cultivated by all classical radio DJs, informs us that we've just heard Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 5, and I am officially in love. I must learn everything I can about this mysterious British composer. I've never heard of him before, yet there is something in his music that awakens deep recognition--what Plato calls 'anamnesis'-- within me.

Remember, it's 1989. In the dark days before Teh Google, I have to hunt down information on Vaughan Williams on foot; fortunately for my compulsive research needs, Patrick returns home to New Jersey, where he has his musicologist father's extensive library to hand. In my Christmas package, Patrick includes a cassette that features Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 2 and the piece that follows this post: "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis."

The Fantasia captures my devotion in the same way the Fifth Symphony does. Based on a hymn tune by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis, its modal antiphony evokes the stark beauty of an ancient church. I listen to it again and again, and over the next several years collect recordings of as much of Vaughan Williams's work as I can find. I love it all; it's as if this composer wrote music specifically for the desires, needs, and tastes of my spirit, all decades before I was born. I appreciate and enjoy most classical music from the past thousand years (with some notable exceptions), but in Vaughan Williams's music, I often feel that I hear the voice of God Himself.

In 1993, a friend and I hear the New York Philharmonic perform Symphony No. 5 in Avery Fisher Hall under the baton of the great André Previn. At the end of the Fourth Movement (the Passacaglia), we enter the same kind of trance Patrick and I experienced years before, nearly forgetting to breathe, then gasping and flinching in unison as the audience around us breaks into thunderous applause.

Not long afterwards, I learn that a prominent NPR radio personality listens to the Fifth Symphony before every airplane trip, because if he dies in flight, he wants it to be the last piece of music he's ever heard. I can understand why; for certain people, the music of Vaughan Williams is potent magic indeed.

I went to Youtube to see whether any of RVW's music was to be found; it was an odd coincidence that the very first link that popped up was that of an old friend, Christiaan Crans, conducting Indiana University's Ad Hoc Orchestra playing the Tallis Fantasia. I remember hanging out with Chris late one night discussing our deep, almost religious fan-love for Vaughan Williams. I haven't seen Chris since we both moved away from Manhattan nearly seven years ago, so tonight I had a double delight. I expect very few of you will sit through all 17 minutes of the piece that follows, but as Emperor Joseph II is fond of saying in the movie Amadeus, "There it is."


For more Music Monday, stop by the fabulous home of Soccer Mom in Denial.
This entry was posted on 7:34 PM and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 comments:

On 27/1/08 , soccer mom in denial said...

What a piece - a mix of memories, beautiful music and found friends. Wow!

Thanks for playing!!

 
On 27/1/08 , Mariposa said...

I love this piece! Happy Music Monday!

 
On 27/1/08 , sirdar said...

I like how you show your emotion in your post. I can't say that I have enjoyed music that moved me like Ralph Vaughan Williams moved you. I enjoy lots of music, and I have many favourite bands/musicians that I like a lot.

 
On 27/1/08 , coloursofdawn said...

I am with Sirdar again. I don't know that I have been so moved by music although, there was once a performance that brought tears to my eyes. After having kids I didn't focus much on music and still I don't focus a lot on it. It has come to where my tastes have changed some and I am not sure what my preferences really are. Our kids will be more versed in music as they are going further in music studies than either Sirdar or I.

 
On 27/1/08 , Jenna said...

I think it's miraculous that you AND Patrick were captivated and moved by the same piece of music. Just one more evidence that you belong together, souls made to be joined.

 
On 28/1/08 , cablegirl said...

I love your passion for this piece. Great MM post today.:)

 
On 28/1/08 , dona nobis pacem said...

Gorgeous.

 
On 28/1/08 , Lilacspecs said...

I felt the same way the first time I heard Zoltan Kodaly's Ave Maria. We performed it in my 10th grade girl's chorale but I've never been able to find a recording of it done by a professional choir. It was beautiful though.

 
On 28/1/08 , Jenn in Holland said...

What a gorgeous post. I am absolutely swept in and so delighted with the memory and the rapture.

 
On 28/1/08 , Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Simply beautiful post, Luisa. I've got C behind me doing German, so I'm going to have to listen to the Fantasia later. I've heard of Vaughan Williams, but I'm not recalling his music right now. I'm pathetic in terms of identifying music from composers beyond the basics.

 
On 28/1/08 , Dedee said...

Love RVW. One of my all time favorites to play. Thanks for taking us on the trip with you!

 
On 29/1/08 , Anonymous said...

Thanks, Luisa, that was beautiful. Karen S

 
On 29/1/08 , Virtualsprite said...

Beautiful post. I love Vaughn Williams, especially since I'm a violist.

 
On 29/1/08 , Kimberly said...

Beautiful music, and beautiful reflections. Thank you for sharing it with us. I enjoyed the clip from the previous post immensely.

 
On 29/1/08 , anjmae said...

I do really like RVW--one tends to get swept up in the music...lost, actually...

 
On 29/1/08 , Josi said...

Beautiful, I'd never heard of him either and so once again you are surpassing my already awe induced reverence of your intelligence.

 
On 31/1/08 , Noodle said...

One of my favorite CDs is Vaughan Williams' "Over Hill, Over Dale." My children and I listen to it quite often.

Do you know The Tallis Scholars? We have a CD of Tudor church music that is also played often.

 
On 1/2/08 , Jim Murdoch said...

This takes me back. I must have been thirteen when I discovered Vaughan Williams and he's always been a favourite. There really is nothing like discovering a new composer and I'm always on the lookout. My most recent find is the Australian Peter Sculthorpe and there's definitely a bit of the Vaughan Williams in there.
Highly recommended.