Today, I’m going to share with you my favourite piece of classical music of all time. It’s the third movement (Romanza) from Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony.
Vaughan Williams is a terribly unfashionable composer in the eyes of musicologists and academics, especially when he shared a similar period of history to the mind-blowing brilliance of composers such as Stravinsky. There is a wonderful simplicity to his music that seems to strike a chord with me. Having studied various composers of the 20th century for several years and sat through many listening sessions and score reading exercises during my University days, it’s very hard to listen to a piece of music without trying to analyse it. Trying to spot the clever things the composers have done, or explore the conceptual background of the music – and to be honest, it saps the fun out of it.
What I find about Vaughan Williams music is that it you can easily take it at face value. That is not to say, it’s not worthy of academic review or serious consideration of it’s technical ability – I just tend to be able to listen to it without trying to break it down. Which is where we come to the third movement of his fifth symphony. For me, this is the most beautiful piece of classical music I’ve ever heard and I find this hard to admit giving my cold-hearted, unemotional nature. The highlight of this piece for me is the swelling string part about 3 minutes in. It builds and builds until we end up with an ‘Halleluiah’ sounding melody played by the first violins and then by the horns.
I’ve heard many different recordings of this so I’ll recommend a few for you to listen to. Andre Previn has conducted this one a few times, but I’ve never been a fan of the speed in which he chooses. For the best recordings I suggest Vernon Handley conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic or Andrew Davies conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
So before you go to bed tonight, stick this piece on and just listen to some non-academic, simple brilliance.