Cattley, Sarah: O Western Wind … An anniversary. SATB
Making her Choral Now debut, young composer Sarah Cattley marks the RVW150 celebrations with an exquisite setting of heartfelt words by the composer’s widow Ursula. A passionate lover’s elegy, her poem evokes the beautiful medieval song Westron Wynde, which in a brilliant imaginative stroke Cattley weaves into the setting to make a priceless a cappella miniature. Lasting around three minutes and a joy to sing, O Western Wind … An anniversary will be the focal point for many concerts celebrating the composer – and his beloved wife, whom many will recall with great affection – in the anniversary year of VW’s birth.
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Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911–2007), second wife of Ralph Vaughan Williams, was a much-loved figure whose gifts as a poet and novelist, generous enthusiasm for countless good causes, and above all devotion to the wider appreciation of her late husband’s work inspired generations of musicians and music lovers in the 49 years following his death in 1958. In her poem of 1993, O Western Wind … An anniversary, written to mark the 35th year of his passing, she contemplates her own mortality, imagined in the context of two contrasting possibilities of how they might be reunited after death; either that time will ‘end for both in darkest night’ – that they will disappear into oblivion, but crucially the same oblivion – or that they will achieve the yearned-for alternative: ‘in that unknown your hand is mine, and mine your own’.
The poem’s title references the anonymous sixteenth-century song Westron Wynde, a lament for a lost lover, and at various points in this unaccompanied setting of Ursula’s poem its first line is interwoven like a refrain. Partly this is in homage to Vaughan Williams’s affinity with Tudor music, and to his glorious wedding of ancient English melodies with his own unique idiom. Partly, too, it is as if the tune is floating through Ursula’s mind as she writes, along with other fragments briefly recalled from VW’s output, which the attentive listener may also recognise.
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