Composers Datebook

Vaughan Williams comes to America

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


Composer's Datebook - June 7, 2021

2:00


June 07, 2021

Synopsis

It was on today’s date in 1922 that the 49-year-old English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams conducted the American premiere of his Third, or “Pastoral” Symphony 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 both wonderment and amusement. He found the Woolworth building in New York more impressive than Niagara Falls, writing to his friend Gustav Holst that “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 Seventh Symphony, 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, cond.) Naxos 8.550733

On This Day

Births

  • 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;

Deaths

  • 1863 - Austrian composer Franz Xaver Gruber, age 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;

Premieres

  • 1896 - Hugo Wolf: opera "Der Corregidor" (The Governor) (1st 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: "Pastoral" Symphony (no.3), at the Litchfield County Choral Festival in Norfolk, Conn., 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.