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Ten Blake Songs

author of text
from Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience

The Ten Blake Songs were composed over the Christmas period 1957/58 for the film The Vision of William Blake, produced and directed by Guy Brenton for the Bi-Centenary Committee of the Blake Society. Only eight were used in the film (numbers 2 and 3 were omitted) which also used extracts from Job, Vaughan Williams’s 1939 ‘Masque for Dancing’ based on Blake’s remarkable illustrations. The cycle was first heard over the air in a BBC recital by Wilfred Brown (tenor) and Janet Craxton (oboe) on 8 October 1958. The first public performance took place at a McNaughten Concert on 14 November, and the film itself was premiered in London on 10 October. Vaughan Williams never heard any of these performances, for he had died on 26 August, well into his eighty-sixth year.

In these marvellous songs of his old age, the vocal line ranges from the extreme simplicity of ‘Infant Joy’ to the stern declamation of ‘Cruelty’, and embraces the formal tune of ‘The Lamb’ (a poem which Vaughan Williams once declared he hated!) as readily as the strophic variations of ‘The Divine Image’. Though the voice and oboe never get in each other’s way, three of the songs dispense with the oboe altogether. In the remainder it acts sometimes in an illustrative capacity (as in ‘The Piper’), but more often as a discreet support that provides a magical pivot for the implied harmonies as they change in deference to the poet’s words. Composed nearly fifty years after On Wenlock Edge, Vaughan Williams’s Blake settings are a moving swansong to the achievements of a remarkable creative life.

from notes by Michael Hurd © 2000


Vaughan Williams: Songs


No 01: Infant Joy  I have no name: I am but two days old
Track 6 on CDA67168 [1'21]
No 02: A Poison Tree  I was angry with my friend
Track 7 on CDA67168 [2'18]
No 03: The Piper  Piping down the valleys wild
Track 8 on CDA67168 [2'04]
No 04: London  I wander thro' each charter'd street
Track 9 on CDA67168 [1'48]
No 05: The Lamb
Track 10 on CDA67168 [2'40]
No 06: The Shepherd
Track 11 on CDA67168 [0'59]
No 07: Ah, Sun-flower
Track 12 on CDA67168 [1'23]
No 08: Cruelty has a human heart
Track 13 on CDA67168 [1'50]
No 09: The Divine Image  To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Track 14 on CDA67168 [2'14]
No 10: Eternity  He who binds himself with joy
Track 15 on CDA67168 [1'36]

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