Composers Datebook®

Vaughan Williams' spin on life in the big city

Composers Datebook - March 27, 2024


On today’s date in 1914, the original version of A London Symphony, by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, premiered at the old Queen’s Hall in that city.

It’s now called the “old Queen’s Hall,” because it was destroyed during the London Blitz of World War II. And it’s the “original version” because shortly after its premiere, Vaughan Williams sent the only copy of the full score to conductor Fritz Busch in Germany for its continental debut, but then World War I broke out, and in the ensuing chaos, the score was lost.

Royal Albert Hall became the replacement venue for the bombed-out Queen’s Hall, and despite the loss of the original full score, that was reconstructed from the orchestral parts.

But after its 1914 premiere, Vaughan Williams had second thoughts — and third and fourth thoughts — about his symphony’s original form. In 1936, he published a substantially revised version that he declared definitive, asking that any earlier incarnations of A London Symphony not be performed in public.

It wasn’t until 2001 that the original version was heard again, with the blessing of the composer’s widow, Ursula, to satisfy those curious about Vaughan Williams’ first thoughts about the city called “The Big Smoke,” and London’s evocative sounds.

Music Played in Today's Program

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Symphony No. 2 (‘A London Symphony’); London Symphony; Andre Previn, cond. RCA/BMG 60581

On This Day


  • 1851 - French composer Vincent d'Indy, in Paris

  • 1892 - American composer and arranger Ferde Grofé, in New York


  • 1757 - possible death date for the Bohemian-born composer and violinist Johann (Jan) Wenzel (Waczlaw /Václav) Anton (Antonin/Antonín) Stamitz, 39, in Mannheim; He was buried in Mannheim on March 30

  • 1975 - British composer Arthur Bliss, 83, in London


  • 1745 - Handel: oratorio Belshazzar, at the King's Theater in London (Gregorian date: April 7)

  • 1897 - Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1, in St. Petersburg, conducted by Alexander Glazunov (Julian date: Mar. 15)

  • 1914 - Vaughan Williams: original version of Symphony No. 2 (A London Symphony), at Queen's Hall in London

  • 1917 - Puccini: opera La Rondine (The Swallow), in Monte-Carlo at the Opéra du Casino

  • 1925 - Edward Joseph Collins: Piano Concerto No. 1, by the Chicago Symphony, Frederick Stock conducting and the composer as soloist

  • 1960 - Mayuzumi: Mandala-Symphonie, in Tokyo

  • 1984 - Andrew Lloyd Webber: musical Starlight Express, in London

  • 2001 - Kevin Volans: String Quartet No. 6, in London, by the Vanbrugh Quartet


  • 1808 - Franz Joseph Haydn makes his last public appearance at a performance of his oratorio The Creation in Vienna in honor of the composer's approaching 76th birthday; Beethoven and Salieri attend the performance and greet Haydn

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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.

About Composers Datebook®