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11 October 2022, 23:01
As the music world celebrates the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams, we look back on classical musicians’ personal experiences of his most popular piece, ‘The Lark Ascending’.
The enduringly popular Lark Ascending has topped the Classic FM Hall of Fame a record 12 times – topping it once again in April this year, the composer Vaughan Williams’ 150th anniversary year.
But why do we love it so much?
In a film created by the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS), the RPS asks famous musicians and dedicated music lovers to talk about what the piece means to them.
Violinist Tasmin Little OBE speaks about the love she has for the work, after having performed it countless times.
“I’ve played The Lark Ascending more than 60 times and each time has been a unique experience. I feel there’s something else at work in this music,” Little says in the film. “The idea of this little bird in this huge sky, soaring closer and closer to heaven… I think there’s something very spiritual about this concept, and such peace and tranquillity in the music that it helps us to find our own sense of peace inside.”
Violinist Elena Urioste says she experiences “a sense of inhalation and exhalation” throughout different phrases of the piece.
Conductor Ben Gernon shares what it’s like to face the orchestra from the podium, during a performance of the piece. “I always look forward to conducting The Lark Ascending. I find in performance it has this amazing ability to reach absolutely everyone. It’s a beguiling and mesmerising piece, but it’s actually quite simple – and its success lies in how it brings the outside world inside the concert hall.”
Read more: ‘The Lark Ascending’ tops the Classic FM Hall of Fame in Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday year
Speaking to Classic FM ahead of playing the work at the Royal Albert Hall in April 2019, violin virtuoso Jennifer Pike explained its magic.
“It’s got the folk element, it’s got beautiful melodies, the poem is such a beautiful one by George Meredith,” Pike said. “And the way Vaughan Williams creates these images of the lark with music is incredible. It’s nostalgic as well with the backdrop of World War One.
“It’s this kind of snapshot of the beautiful countryside and my hairs stand up just listening to the piece and playing it.”
When playing it live, Pike added, “You feel this atmosphere in the hall… it’s almost like being in meditation. I can’t describe how special it is to play it.”
Read more: Why does everyone love The Lark Ascending? Violinist Jennifer Pike explains its magic
In the RPS film, composer Sally Beamish OBE describes Vaughan Williams’ music as “genius”, pointing out how innovative it would have been at that time to write something so descriptive and free for the violin.
“The violin writing is just stunning,” Beamish adds.
Pianist Tom Poster also features, introducing his thoughts on the original violin-piano arrangement of the piece. And cultural historian Gavin Plumley is on hand to round the story off, with where it fits in a wider historical and social context. It makes for an inspiring watch – and beautiful too, with George Meredith’s poem that originally inspired the work woven throughout the film.
Watch the film The Lark Ascending in full on the Royal Philharmonic Society’s website by becoming a member today. Visit: royalphilharmonicsociety.org.uk/lark to find out more.