Composers Datebook®

Vaughan Williams' "London Symphony"

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) A London Symphony (Symphony No. 2) London Symphony; Richard Hickox, cond. Chanos 9902

Composer's Datebook - May 4, 2021


May 04, 2021


At Queen’s Hall in London, on today’s date in 1920, conductor Albert Coates led the premiere of the revised version of the “London” Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

A longer version of this Symphony had premiered six years earlier, and Vaughan Williams would continue to tinker with this work, on and off, for decades.

“The London Symphony is past mending,” wrote Vaughan Williams in 1951, “though with all its faults I love it still; indeed, it is my favorite.”

For most music lovers, Vaughan Williams means English folk tunes or hymns woven into lush works for strings, or musical pictures of English countryside… But it was a city view that inspired his “London Symphony,” described by Vaughan Williams himself as “a good view of the river and a bridge and three great electric-light chimneys and a sunset.”

In fact, you could call the Vaughan Williams Second a “sunset” symphony. Its final pages were inspired by an H. G. Wells novel describing a night passage on the Thames to the open sea: “To run down the Thames so is to run one’s hand over the pages in the book of England from end to end... The river passes... London passes… England passes…“

Music Played in Today's Program

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) A London Symphony (Symphony No. 2) London Symphony; Richard Hickox, cond. Chanos 9902

On This Day


  • 1744 - Austrian composer of Spanish descent Marianne (Anna Katharina) von Martínez, in Vienna; She studied composition with Haydn, and Haydn and Mozart attended her musical soirées;

  • 1860 - Austrian composer Emil Nikolaus Von Reznicek, in Vienna;

  • 1905 - Hungarian-born British composer and teacher Mátyás(György) Seiber, in Budapest;


  • 1604 - Italian composer and publisher Claudio Merulo, age 71, in Parma;

  • 1955 - Rumanian composer Georges Enesco, age 73, late on May 3 or early on May 4, in Paris;


  • 1795 - Haydn: Symphony No. 104, conducted by the composer, at the King's Theater in London; This symphony is sometimes nicknamed the "Salomon" Symphony, although it (along with Haydn's Symphonies 102 and 103) was in fact commissioned for and premiered at Viotti's Opera Concerts, not as part of the earlier series of Haydn concerts arranged by the impresario Salomon;

  • 1895 - Dvorák: cantata "The American Flag," Op. 102, in New York;

  • 1920 - Vaughan Williams : revised version of Symphony No.2 ("A London Symphony") at Queens Hall in London, conducted by Albert Coates; The first version of this symphony had premiered at Queen's Hall in London on March 27, 1914, conducted by Geoffrey Toye; A final (twice revised) version of this symphony was published in 1936;

  • 1924 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 6, in Moscow;

  • 1974 - Rautavaara: Flute Concerto, in Stockholm, with flutist Gunilla von Bahr and the Swedish Radio Symphony, Stig Westerberg conducting;

  • 1976 - Bernstein: musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York City, conducted by Roland Gagnon; A trial run of this show had opened in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theater on February 24, 1976;

  • 1976 - Sondheim: revue "Side by Side by Sondheim" (compiled from various Sondheim musicals by British singer-actor David Kernan and others); This revue opened on Broadway on April 18, 1977;

  • 1989 - Joan Tower: "Island Prelude" for oboe and strings, by soloist Peter Bowman and the St. Louis Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting.