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Three Shakespeare Songs

composer
1951
author of text
No 1: The Tempest I:2; No 2: The Tempest IV:1; No 3: A Midsummer Night's Dream II:1

 
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed these choral essays, somewhat reluctantly, as test pieces for the 1951 National Competition Festival of the British Federation of Music. Since then they have become a firm favourite as they combine a world of impressionism (from his experience with Ravel) with a journey through enharmonic wonders, and tongue-tying tricks of choral enunciation.

Full fathom five is a play on the sound of tolling bells, in multi-divided upper voices while the basses sing an undulating melody beneath. There is a little quirk though. If one takes the first four notes of either ‘O taste and see’ or the hymn tune: ‘For all the saints’ by the same composer, and sings them simultaneously, the result is the cluster-chord on ‘Ding’. The tenors, on ‘Dong’, then provide that clanging dissonance which employs the same interval inherent in bell overtones. A central, contrasting section is classic Vaughan Williams: parallel triads which transform, punning beautifully with the text, into the strangest superimposition of chords on ‘strange’.

The cloud-capp’d towers is a masterful test-piece for choirs to prove their collective tuning skills, but has also become a favourite for its ravishing colour-changes reminiscent of progressions in his 6th Symphony.

Over hill, over dale is in essence a Scherzo, with some similarities to the choral-scherzo (third movement) of his Sea Symphony. The keen listener might recognise the same interval-span on ‘hill’ and ‘dale’ as was used in the tolling-bell-effect in the first song.

from notes by Greg Murray 2016

Recordings

Music of the Spheres
SIGCD904Download only 30 September 2016 Release
All in the April Evening
CDH55243
There is sweet music
CSCD505Download only
Vaughan Williams: Over hill, over dale
CDA66777

Details

No 1: Full fathom five
Track 6 on SIGCD904 [3'22] Download only 30 September 2016 Release
Track 2 on CDA66777 [2'55]
Track 21 on CDH55243 [2'59]
Track 6 on CSCD505 [3'20] Download only
No 2: The cloud-capp'd towers
Track 7 on SIGCD904 [2'25] Download only 30 September 2016 Release
Track 3 on CDA66777 [2'48]
Track 22 on CDH55243 [1'56]
Track 7 on CSCD505 [2'18] Download only
No 3: Over hill, over dale
Track 8 on SIGCD904 [0'57] Download only 30 September 2016 Release
Track 4 on CDA66777 [0'52]
Track 23 on CDH55243 [0'56]
Track 8 on CSCD505 [1'01] Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDA66777 track 3

The cloud-capp'd towers
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-95-77703
Duration
2'48
Recording date
26 February 1995
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Vaughan Williams: Over hill, over dale (CDA66777)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: October 1995
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