Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Ten Blake Songs

***This post was originally published in March***

I’ve never been a super fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams before.  I’ve certainly studied a few of his pieces in college, but I’ve never encountered a piece of his that really encapsulated me, until I heard Ten Blake Songs for voice and oboe.  Vaughan Williams had brilliantly set these poems from Willam Blake’s Songs of Innocence in 1958, the year of his death.  I’m definitely a sucker for pieces with two-part texture.  The oboe accompaniment makes use of repeating rhythmic and melodic figures (but not so much ostinati).

Example – I. Infant Joy from Ten Blake Songs  mm. 1-4:


Take for example, the repeated material used in the first movement, Infant Joy.  I have strong personal feelings for the modal figure that occurs on the eighth note after the third beat in the second measure.  It happens in measures two, six, and eleven, also in variations in measures fourteen, and twenty-one.  These occur mostly on held notes, at the end of a poetic phrase.  The quarter note triplet figures happen three times in the piece: once in the beginning (mm. 1, and 3) separated by the modal figure, once in the middle of the song (mm. 12-13), to support the separating of the stanzas, and at the end (mm. 20, and 24) to close out the movement.  These salient features give the thin, two-part, polyphonic texture some solidarity.

Another movement that I really enjoy is the third movement The Piper.  In this piece, the oboe imitates a piper engages in a call and response with the singer.  The exuberance of this piece is mirrored in how the meter and mode changes throughout the piece, rhythmical and scalar passages, as well as dynamic changes, support the interplay between the two instruments.

This song cycle is highly recommended for those who love the complexity of simplicity.  Less is more.