in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Saturday, 14 June 2014

'High Midsummer Pomps' - Vaughan-Williams' Oxford Elegy
    Just back from Rome it is a pleasure to see the garden burgeoning with lots of green. BBC Radio 3 are presently playing one piece of British music each day nominated by its listeners. I have just emailed them to suggest a wonderful late work of Ralph Vaughan-Williams: ‘The Oxford Elegy’ for narrator, semi-chorus and orchestra. Written late in his life I don’t think it is performed often because of its unusual combination of forces: as well as a first class choir and orchestra it must have a first-rate actor to speak the parts of Arnold’s wonderful poems upon which VW based his piece. There is something about the text, the English idyll of the ‘Dreaming Spires’ of Oxford and its environs, VW’s evocative music (just listen to the way he writes for the viola!) and the elegiac quality of a late piece clearly remembering his youthful ‘field days’ with Gustav Holst that makes this, for me, a quintessentially British piece. I attach a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it and leave you with the words of Arnold, set by Vaughan-Williams, as we approach the summer solstice:

    ‘Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
        Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
    Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
        Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
            And stocks in fragrant blow;
    Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
        And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
        And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
    And the full moon, and the white evening-star.’
Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;

               And air-swept lindens yield

       And bower me from the August sun with shade;

And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers.




  1. This is so wonderful! I was looking for the poem after a friend quoted 'Midsummer Pomps' and not only did I find it here but also the link to the music, new to me. And this fascinating blog!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it Therese, sadly the piece is rarely performed because of the strange forces required - let's hope there will be performance in the not too distant future - perhaps in Oxford!