Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vaughan Williams for Piano

When I was about 13, I discovered, and fell in love with, the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).  I remember telling my piano teacher of this discovery, and her reply, "oh, my, but there's no good piano music!"  Well, as I have discovered since, that wasn't entirely accurate - there is some Vaughan Williams piano music, and it's all good, but it's rather hard to find.  Vaughan Williams preferred to work on a large canvas (and after all, why not? - he was a big man!) and so it's fitting that the piano work that most readily comes to mind in connection with his name is his fine Concerto, a big work in every way, written for Harriet Cohen in 1930, and recast as a concerto for two pianos in 1946.  Here is the first recording of either version, by the artists who gave the two-piano version its American première in 1949:

Vaughan Williams: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra
Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe, duo-pianists
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia conducted by Vladimir Golschmann
Recorded July 26, 1950
RCA Victor Red Seal set WDM-1597, three red vinyl 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 61.44 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 32.19 MB)

This set had no 78-rpm issue, as by the time it appeared, RCA Victor had phased out the 78-rpm format in favor of their own 45-rpm discs.

Also written for Harriet Cohen was this charming Hymn Tune Prelude on a song by Orlando Gibbons:

Vaughan Williams: Hymn Tune Prelude (on Gibbons' Song 13) and
Gibbons: Five Keyboard Pieces
Harriet Cohen, piano
Recorded December 4, 1947
English Columbia DX 1552, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 23 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.1 MB)

Finally, about three years ago, I presented a Sunday morning worship service at my church, the Unitarian Congregation of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, Ga., devoted to Vaughan Williams - whose hymn tune arrangements have become basic material in most Protestant hymnals.  In lieu of a sermon, I presented a complete performance of his "Suite of Six Short Pieces" for piano, published in 1920, and later rearranged as his "Charterhouse Suite" for string orchestra.  I have posted this performance on Youtube at the following link:

Vaughan Williams: Suite of Six Short Pieces


  1. Terrific - I have been looking for this recording of the two piano concerto for some time. Also appreciate the opportunity to hear you play some VW!

    Best regards.

  2. Oh... finally someone remembered these great works!
    Please, please could you post even here the little masterpiece of the piano "Suite"... ?!

  3. ... I remember a great John McCabe version of this suite (with coupled some wonderful underrated piano pieces of Gustav Holst, and maybe others) in a not to be found recording.

  4. As a note for non-Philadelphians, the "Robin Hood Dell Orchestra" is the "Philadelphia Orchestra". Before they went to a 52 week season, the orchestra had the summer off. Individual players were contracted separately for concerts in an amphitheater called the "Robin Hood Dell". I heard Ormandy conduct Menuhin there, about 1974.

  5. A lovely rarity, Bryan. What a great performance! Many thanks for sharing this.