Ten inspiring pieces of music 2: Vaughan Williams – Tallis Fantasia

Today’s inspiring piece is rather well-known: The Tallis Fantasia by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It’s based on a theme by the Tudor composer Thomas Tallis and was written with Gloucester Cathedral in mind, where it was premiered in 1910. There are three string sections, a full-sized string orchestra, a single desk from each section, and finally a string quartet. Ideally, they should be positioned at a distance from one another with the space itself acting as a fourth instrument.

It’s a contemplative piece and, if you get the chance to see the score, deceptively very simple. It’s a piece that depends for its success on the performance. The video above is by Sir Andrew Davies conducting the strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the original venue of Gloucester Cathedral is probably the best recording of the piece I’ve heard.

What do I find inspirational about it? It’s a piece that clears my mind. Depending on your mood it’s either sad or uplifting, restful or agitated.

Give it a go – this isn’t a piece to listen to in the background but one to focus on and follow each line.

I’ll be honest, it’s a piece that took a while to gel with me and I’ll probably choose more by this composer for my other ten pieces. Like Shostakovich, who’ll appear at least once, he was an acquired taste for me but one I can’t shake. This is a great introduction to his music but if you want more then try the Second, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. I may be choosing something from one of those, or his huge First Symphony, later.

If you’d like a good recording of the Fantasia, then the same forces as in the video above – though not, sadly, the same performance – are available for less than a fiver along with the Sixth Symphony (which you’ll recognise when you hear it) and The Lark Ascending (which is the best evocation of an English summer you’ll hear).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: