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Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Ralph Vaughan Williams was an outstanding 20th-century composer, and one of a handful of British composers whose achievement ranks equal in genius with that of Henry Purcell. Drawing on the rich treasury of national folk song and dance, he created a uniquely English style that is also universal in its range of appeal.
Many of his most popular works in the Stainer & Bell catalogue reflect this lifelong interest in the music of the people. The Five English Folk Songs for SATB chorus, for example, and the Six Studies in English Folk Song, have been firmly established in the repertoire of singers and instrumentalists for many years. Another favourite, the Fantasia on Christmas Carols, derived from his reforming work as editor of the English Hymnal. In both A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony, the folk song essence is transformed into visionary, transcendental statements of a kind also found in Toward the Unknown Region, for chorus and orchestra, and the Five Mystical Songs, for solo baritone, chorus and orchestra.
Much influenced by the legacy of the Tudors, Vaughan Williams paid homage to the English Renaissance tradition of viol consort music in his Phantasy Quintet, worthy to stand with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis as emblem of his gift for fusing past and present in a powerfully arresting identity.