Composers Datebook®

Vaughan Williams comes to America

Composers Datebook - June 7, 2024


It was on today’s date in 1922 that English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams conducted the American premiere of his Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral) at the Litchfield County music festival in Norfolk, Connecticut.

It was his first trip to the U.S., and he reacted to American landscapes and customs with wonder and amusement. He found the Woolworth building in New York more impressive than Niagara Falls, writing to his friend Gustav Holst, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the Works of Man terrify me more than the Works of God.” He was also bemused by America’s summertime fondness for chicken salad, which he called “beyond powers of expression.”

As for the premiere American performance of his Pastoral Symphony, he reported it had been “excellent.”

Vaughan Williams would return to the United States twice more before his death in 1958. By that time his music had become very popular in American. George Szell in Cleveland, Rafael Kubelik in Chicago, and Dimtri Mitropoulos in New York were all in heated competition to secure rights to the American premiere of his Symphony No. 7, for example.

Spoiler alert: Kubelik and the Chicago Symphony won out.

Music Played in Today's Program

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Kees Bakels, conductor; Naxos 8.550733

On This Day


  • 1897 - Hungarian born American conductor and occasional composer/arranger George Szell, in Budapest. He was led the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946 until the time of his death in 1970.


  • 1863 - Austrian composer Franz Xaver Gruber, 75, in Hallen (near Salzburg). He composed the famous Christmas Carol, “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”), in 1818, while serving as a church organist and schoolmaster in Oberndorf.


  • 1896 - Hugo Wolf: opera Der Corregidor (The Governor) (first version) in Mannheim at the Nationaltheater

  • 1920 - Gershwin: musical revue, George White’s Scandals of 1920, at the Globe Theater in New York City

  • 1922 - American premiere of Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral), at the Litchfield County Choral Festival in Norfolk, Connecticut, with the composer conducting. The world premiere had taken place in London on Jan. 26, 1922.

  • 1927 - Prokofiev: ballet, Pas d’Acier, in Paris, by the Ballet Russe

  • 1933 - Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins of the Bourgeoisie, in Paris; text by Bertolt Brecht

  • 1945 - Britten: opera Peter Grimes, in London at Sadler's Wells Theater

  • 1951 - Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1, in Paris

  • 1972 - Copland: Three Latin American Sketches, at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in New York City, by New York Philharmonic conducted by André Kostelanetz

  • 1984 - Crumb: A Haunted Landscape, by the New York Philharmonic, Arthur Weisberg conducting

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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