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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, March 27

Vaughan Williams's spin on life in the big city

Synopsis

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

And we say, the “old Queen’s Hall,” because THAT was destroyed during the London Blitz of World War TWO. And we say “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 One broke out, and, well... somehow 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 published a substantially revised version 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’s 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; André Previn, cond. RCA/BMG 60581

Additional Information

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