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Three Shakespeare Songs

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


All in the April Evening
Music of the Spheres
Studio Master: SIGCD904Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
There is sweet music
CSCD505Download only
Vaughan Williams: Over hill, over dale


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

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