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Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Syd Trot

on 23 February 2014

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Transcript of Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Song Cycle List
1. The Vagabond
2. Let Beauty Awake
3. The Roadside Fire
4. Youth and Love
5. In Dreams
6. The Infinite Shining Heavens
7. Whither Must I Wander
8. Bright is the Ring of Words
9. I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope
*#9 is to only be performed in public after the other eight songs, no other time*
Why this song cycle is
regarded as important:
It is unique in the sense that there is no real narrative thread from one song to the next, rather a set of different circumstances on which the Traveler comments and it somehow creates a storyline by itself.

What did we learn?
Nature is healing.

expansive and beautiful all while mainly providing harmonic support. Use of recurring motives/harmonic quotations in several pieces

isn't a vocal marathon, the singer is there to tell a story not show off

the core of this song cycle
An Overview of the Cycle
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Robert Louis Stevenson
Composed in:
Composer Motivation:
this would be Vaughan Williams' first venture into singer-piano accompanied compositions
-Williams selected poems from Stevenson’s collection of poems "Songs of Travel", which he subsequently ended up using the same name for his song cycle
-Originally written for baritone but it has been transcribed for other vocal ranges; most commonly also sung in high voice
-At first written for just piano and baritone but it was later orchestrated by Vaughan Williams himself (songs #1, 3 and 8) and his colleague, Roy Douglas later orchestrated the remaining 6 pieces
-A complete performance of this song cycle typically lasts between 20-24 minutes
Introduces the Traveler, with heavy "marching" chords that depict his journey through the countryside
Vocal Line:
a triplet that opens the vocal line and accompaniment evokes a feeling of purpose, telling listeners that the traveler is setting out
Song Interpretation:
when one embarks on a journey they start out strong! This song cycle starts off powerful, unchallenged and assured, yet, it also establishes a romantic essence which is later explored

The Vagabond
Another bittersweet piece; again touches on the healing properties of nature. The Traveler basically sings about how nature's life goes on, things grow and die but there is always something else growing to replace it, and the seasons pass but they always come back again; he realizes that he can't go back to his youth and the security that being a carefree youth provides, as well as, he can't go back to his lover...all those things are of his past.
Strophic (the only strophic piece in the cycle)
Vocal Line:
although strophic, it is versatile in terms of dynamics and tempo. As the Traveler goes through the stages of realizing moments of his past, how he can only move forward and how spring holds something good for his future; changes from forte to pianissimo
mainly harmonic support; the opening two measure phrase recurs throughout the rest of the piece as an interlude between vocal verses. This two measure phrase sums up the whole meaning of the piece, you can just hear, harmonically, how it sets the mood for the piece; it starts out anticipatory but resolves which is similar to the Traveler's feelings about life.

Whither Must I Wander?
Vocal Line:
a passionate melodic line that unfolds over long arabesques in the piano
lots of arpeggios
Dawn vs. Dusk is presented as a bittersweet time, the moments between the dawn and dusk. The phrase "and the stars are bright in the west..." links the verses and adds that bittersweet feeling as it gives the imagery that things are better somewhere else other then where the Traveler is
Let Beauty Awake
As the Traveler continues his journey he finds love, contrasting in subject and mood from the first song. At first the Traveler exclaims he only needs "the heaven above...and the road below me" (The Vagabond) with a heavy chord accompaniment. But now, we hear a lively accompaniment as the Traveler finds delight in his new found love. The song becomes serious as the Traveler imagines intimate moments with his new lover but in the final verse returns to an ecstatic and lively mood again, as we heard at the beginning.
Vocal Line:
tender and loving; the lively first verse has forte dynamic markings to reflect the Traveler's excitement over love and as he imagines the intimacy that they will share the vocalist becomes soft and tender
Lively, ecstatic introduction: Intimate, flowing middle section (1:02):
The Roadside Fire
Youth and Love
Song Interpretation:
the Traveler deals with conflict as he must chose between staying with his lover or continuing the journey and his life of solitude.
the conflict and the Traveler's need to make a choice is emphasized in the accompaniment as we hear motives from "The Vagabond" which emphasizes his one choice: continuing his journey and solitude; we hear motives from "The Roadside Fire" which emphasizes his other choice: enjoying the wonders of love.
The accompaniment also touches on the recurring theme of nature with bird call and waterfall sounds:
-2:02: Contemplative accompaniment as it changes into a waterfall-esque, rolling water feel
-2:21: a quick, ascending chordal moment imitates the chirping of a bird
The Infinite Shining Heavens

Like all regrets and sadness, we work through them, recover and heal; the solitude of traveling and the healing powers of nature, we see the Traveler's mood transform out of sorrow.
vast, arppegiating chords -> with the combination of an expansive melodic vocal line and words "Night after night in my sorrow, the stars looked over the sea, Til lo! I looked in the dark and a star had come down to me." The traveler finally finds peace looking into the night sky
In Dreams
As listener's we have been reminded throughout of the Traveler's concern of "being forgotten", by his lover, by his family, by his home. In this piece the message is that while we must all die, many people or at least someone will remember the beauty of our lives.
a single chord rings out at the beginning of this piece; I imagine this chord as the Traveler calling out into the universe asking if anyone will remember his journey and life or if his fear of being forgotten will be confirmed.
Bright is the Ring of Words
-added to the cycle in 1960, never intended by Vaughan William to be a published as part of the cycle; after his death his wife found the composition in his papers and she added it to the cycle
-this piece summarizes the whole cycle; textual and musical quotes are included in the piece from "The Vagabond", "Whither must I wander?", and "Bright is the ring of words"
opening chords of "The Vagabond" (powerful, unchallenged and assured) and now we hear the opening chords (slowed down, dragging, weak) of this piece; shows how life can wear one down
The Traveler is now old and it seems as if his journey will continue indefinitely as he moves past human life in his time in Heaven
Vocal Line:
"...and I have lived and loved and closed the door..." perhaps the most powerful line in the song cycle as it summaries the Traveler's whole life in 10 words; set to pianissimo, grave tempo marking with long note values, making this entire phrase even more solemn and expansive

I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope
Word painting:
1)Since this first song introduces the traveler, it is focused on the Traveler and his proclamations out into the universe about his journey. The words "All I..." are set to the highest note values
2)The word "Below" is set to the lowest note value in the piece
Anyone get it? It's Songs of TRAVEL...and there are foot prints? Ha ha
By: Sydney Trotter
the darkest, most sorrowful piece of the song cycle. The Traveler made the choice of continuing his journey over his lover, he now imagines how as he left she must have "wept awhile" but as time has past, she has probably forgotten him. The Traveler is feeling anguish over how he made her cry and how he is now a forgotten part of her life.
Vocal Line:
chromaticism with rapid modulations gives a feeling of anguish as the Traveler feels sorrow over his forgotten lover
rhythm is off-beat and detached which gives an overall cold and dark feeling; vocal line's chromaticism is reinforced with further chromaticism in the piano
hair pin markings throughout add to the feeling of sorrow and anguish as it gives a sense of unease and shifting between different levels of regret and sadness
Full transcript