Country Matters Oct 22: Of Monarchy and Music

Arrowsmith – October 2022

Queen Elizabeth the Second not only lived a life constrained by duty but was also an ardent supporter of agriculture and the farming community.  Her commitment to the countryside was a major aspect of her service to the countries and people of which she was monarch. Her husband, eldest son and daughter shared her concern for rural life in Britain.  King Charles III was formerly called a ‘tree-hugger’ and was at the forefront of environmentalism, which shows his knowledge of farming and climate change was based on practical experience.  Both he and his sister established private homes at Gatcombe and Highgrove, and their investment in the future of our rural environment is reflected in so much of their public lives. Regardless of your views about constitutional monarchy, it’s indisputable that the dedication of the Queen and the King is admirable. Even principled republicans found themselves moved in the emotion of mourning, and were stirred by the music of the funeral, a lot of which was itself inspired by the British countryside, and in particular by composers with strong connections with our region of the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills.

Ralph Vaughan Williams – born 150 years ago on October 12th, 1872, in Down Ampney – featured extensively, as did Edward Elgar, who spent much of his life in Worcestershire. Both these composers are considered to have written music which creates a sense of the English countryside.  Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” evokes images of a skylark climbing high into blue summer skies. Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” plays with the imagination, romantically illustrating the changing moods of landscapes such as the Malvern Hills under the widely differing weather conditions so familiar to countryfolk, all the seasons of the year in a mere matter of hours.  

Vaughan Williams also composed hymns, songs and anthems. His harmonies in arranging rural folk songs share his rich style of music descriptive of the English countryside which seems to pervade so much of his work.  The tune “Forest Green” which is Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of a Surrey farming song “The Ploughboy’s Dream”, is well known in Britain for the Christmas Carol, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” and in Cirencester we hear another tune he arranged; “O, mensch bewein” for the hymn “Faith of our Fathers”, which is the tune played by the Carillion of St John’s Parish Church.

Our countryside’s composers have written so much British music: Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory”, Holst’s (born in Cheltenham) “I Vow to Thee My Country” and, of course Vaughan Williams’ many pieces played in last month’s funeral.  In celebration of the century and a half since Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birth, All Saints Church, Down Ampney has mounted a series of events and concerts.  A few of these are still available to attend in October.  For details, visit: ampneychurches.info/events-in-2022 

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