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"He rises and begins to round/he drops the silver chain of sound/Of many links without a break/in chirrup, whistle, slur and shake." - George Meredith's poem that inspired Vaughan Williams to compose The Lark Ascending.
The composer wrote the piece in 1914, but the outbreak of World War I meant he had to put its premiere on hold. It wasn’t until 1921 that The Lark Ascending received its first performance, featuring the violinist Marie Hall – the woman for whom Vaughan Williams had written it.
Listen out for the soaring violin melody ascends so high into the instrument’s upper register that, at times, it is barely audible; shimmering strings, meanwhile, provide much of the beautifully sensitive accompaniment, evoking glorious images of the rolling British countryside. Midway through The Lark Ascending, Vaughan Williams treats us to an orchestral section that seems to borrow from his love of folk songs; it’s not long, though, before the lark returns, with the melody entwining itself around the orchestra and then breaking free, rising to ever loftier heights.
The Lark Ascending is notoriously difficult to play, but the best performances of it are seemingly effortless and free. It remains the composer’s most popular work, and seems certain to grace the highest echelons of the Classic FM Hall of Fame for many years to come.