‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams © Oxford University Press 1925. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, a romance for violin and orchestra, counts as one of the composer’s most popular works. It was inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name about the song of the skylark. The composer began working on the piece in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. In its original form the work was scored for violin and piano but in 1920 Vaughan Williams arranged it for violin and orchestra, which is the version most often performed today.
The work was dedicated to the violinist Marie Hall (1884–1956), who premiered both versions. The first version for violin and piano was premiered on 15 December 1920 at a concert of the Avonmouth and Shirehampton Choral Society in Shirehampton, Gloucestershire. The first orchestral performance was given in the Queen’s Hall in London on 14 June 1921 by the British Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult.
This manuscript copy for violin and piano, which shows extensive cuts, additions, and corrections in the composer’s hand, bears the name of Marie Hall on the title page as well as a selection of lines from George Meredith’s poem, with lines 11-14 subsequently crossed out:
“He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
For singing till his heaven fills,
'Tis love of earth that he instils
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes;
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe…
Till, lost on his aërial rings
In light… and then the fancy sings.”