Ralph Vaughan Williams

Portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English pastoral composer. He was born on 12th October 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England and died on 26th August 1958 in London, England aged 85.

Major Works

“Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (1910)
“The Lark Ascending” (1914, rev. 1921)
“Fantasia on “Greensleeves” (1934) 

Biography Timeline

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born on 12th October 1872 at The Vicarage, Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, England. He was the second of three children of Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams, a vicar and his wife Margaret Wedgwood. He was educated at Field House School, Rottingdean and Charterhouse School and then went to the Royal College of Music in London under Charles Stanford. and then Trinity College, Cambridge.

1875: Death of his father. His mother, brother and sister move back to the family house at Leith Hill Place near Dorking in Surrey.

1879: He learns to play the violin.

1890: He visits Munich and hears the music of Richard Wagner for the first time.

1894: He passes his Bachelor of Music examinations at the Royal College of Music in London.

1895: He studies history at Cambridge University and becomes organist at St. Barnabas’s Church in Lambeth, London.

1897: He marries Adeline Fisher on 9th October, at All Saint’s Church, Hove, Sussex. 

1901: His first published composition “Linden Lea” is set to poetry by William Barnes.

1903: He begins his lifelong quest to collect English folksongs so they are not lost.

1904: He begins his work editing the English Hymnal hymn book. 

1907: He composes “In the Fen Country” which attracts a great deal of attention.

1909: He writes “The Wasps”, music to accompany Aristophane’s drama. He produces “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”.

1910: He completes the “Sea Symphony” with words by Walt Whitman. (Symphony No1).

1911: He begins his Opera “Hugh the Drover”.

1914: He finishes his Second Symphony called the “London Symphony”. He enlists in the Army Field Medical Corps during the First World War.

1916: He is sent to Ecoivres in France and then on to Salonika in Greece. His friend and musician George Butterworth is killed in action.

1917: He is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery and sent back to France.

1918: He becomes Director of Music of the First Army British Expeditionary Force in France.

1919: After the end of the war he is appointed as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in London.

1922: He finishes his Third Symphony “The Pastoral” and visits America.

1925: His opera “Hugh the Drover” is performed at the Royal College of Music by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

1930: He completes “Job” – A Masque for Dancing.

1932: He is elected President of The English Folk Dance and Song Society.

1933: First performance of his Piano Concerto.

1934: Death of his close friend Gustav Holst.

1935: He completes Symphony Number 4. He is awarded the Order of Merit.

1939: At the outbreak of the Second World War he devotes himself to composing film music, writing and going on lecture tours.

1940: He composes his first film score for “The 49th Parallel”.

1943: He finishes the Fifth Symphony which receives a very warm response when conducted by him at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

1944: He writes the Oboe Concerto.

1948: He completes the Sixth Symphony.

1949: He completes his opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

1951: Death of his first wife on 10th May. 

1953: In February he marries Ursula Wood and they honeymoon in Berlin where he studies with the composer Max Bruch. He composes the “Sinfonia Antartica”. (Symphony No 7).

1954: He goes on a lecture tour of the United States. His Tuba Concerto is performed in London.

1956: He finishes Symphony Number 8. “A Vision of Aeroplanes” is performed in London.

1958: He finishes Symphony Number 9.

Ralph Vaughan Williams died on 26th August at Hanover Terrace in London of a heart attack in his sleep. His ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey.

Further Information

See his page on Britain Unlimited for further information

List of compositions by Vaughan-WIlliams.