5 beautiful pieces of music inspired by the English countryside

13 March 2019, 10:28

English countryside
English countryside. Picture: Getty

The rolling hills of rural England have inspired countless musical masterpieces. These are just some of our favourites

The landscape of England has given us some of the greatest music ever written – here are some that have a special place in our heart.

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  1. The Lark Ascending – Vaughan Williams

    Vaughan Williams’ hugely popular piece for solo violin and orchestra is the composer’s love song to the British countryside. He wrote the work in 1914, and the piece is full of the innocence of a world before the First World War.

    The solo violin plays the part of the lark in the piece, as the melody soars up to dizzying heights to match the lark’s flight into the sky. At times the violin part is so high it’s barely audible. It’s no surprise this is one of the best-loved pieces of music ever written – and it often flies to the top of the Classic FM Hall of Fame.

  2. Enigma Variations – Elgar

    Elgar’s Enigma Variations is made up of a theme and 14 variations, each of which is dedicated to one of the composer’s friends or family. The most famous, Nimrod, is dedicated to his friend and publisher, August Jaeger.

    But the thread running through the work is Elgar’s delight in the English countryside, and specifically the Malvern hills, where he spent much of his time. One of the variations even gives a musical depiction of his friend’s bulldog falling into the River Wye.

  3. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring – Delius

    On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

    Delius wrote his ode to the countryside in 1914 but while Vaughan Williams used the violin to capture the song of the lark, Delius recreates the cuckoo’s iconic call using mainly woodwind instruments – the oboe and the clarinet in particular.

    Although Delius was born in the north of England, the tune at the heart of this piece is actually a Norwegian folk song called ‘In Ola Valley’. Delius may have first come across the piece when he was on a walking holiday in the Norwegian mountains with fellow composer Percy Grainger.

  4. Sumer is Icumen In

    Sumer is Icumen in (The Hilliard Ensemble)

    An oldie but a goodie – this medieval round was written in the mid-13th century and celebrates the coming of summer. The text is in Middle English, in a dialect from Wessex and although the identity of the composer has been lost, some historians think it may have been written by W. de Wycombe who lived in Herefordshire at the time.

    The song itself celebrates the animals of spring, including the ewe, the bullock and the billy-goat. But it’s the cuckoo that takes centre-stage in the chorus:

    ‘Summer has arrived,
    Sing cuckoo!’

  5. Eclogue – Finzi

    Gerald Finzi - Eclogue for Piano and Strings Op. 10

    No list of British music is complete with something by Gerald Finzi. Finzi was born in London in 1901 but he’s most famous for his music celebrating the British landscape.

    He wrote his Eclogue in the 1920s, but he never actually managed to complete the work – at least, not in the way he wanted to. The original idea was that it would be a piano concerto inspired by a conversation between shepherds.

    What he left was a beautiful one-movement for piano and strings – an ode to the lush landscape of England.