Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in England in 1872 into a wealthy and well-connected family. His great uncle was the biologist Charles Darwin. He learnt to play piano, organ and violin, but his goal was to be a composer. He went on to compose music for over sixty years and has been described by many as “the most important English composer of his generation”.

Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958
The music of Vaughan Williams is part of the modern period.

The Lark Ascending is one of his most famous and well-loved pieces. He originally composed the piece for violin and piano in 1914, revising it in 1920 for solo violin and orchestra. It was inspired by the poem of the same name by English writer, George Meredith which tells the tale of a skylark’s beautiful birdsong.

The skylark – a bird whose song is often described as the definitive sound of the countryside.
An extract from George Meredith’s poem

The piece begins with a two-bar introduction by the woodwind and string sections, after which we hear the violinist play a cadenza. A cadenza is a dramatic solo passage where the soloist plays and the orchestra pauses and remains silent. Below is an extract from the score of the beginning of the cadenza:

The cadenza was written “senza misura” meaning without bar-lines to allow the soloist to play freely.

As the piece develops, listen out for how the violin solo reflects both the bird’s song and the bird’s flight.

Every Easter, the Classic FM Hall of Fame takes place and this year The Lark Ascending was voted as the UK’s favourite piece of classical music for the tenth time in the chart’s history.


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