The Kennedy Center

Ralph Vaughan Williams


Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English born composer, organist, conductor, lecturer, teacher, editor, writer and a central figure in the renaissance of British music in the 20th century.  His influence was immense and he is best known as one of the leading collector/researchers of traditional English folk music.
He was born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, on October 21st, 1872.  He was the third son of ordained vicar Arthur Vaughan Williams and Margaret Wedgwood.  He received his first musical training from his aunt Sophy.  In 1887 he received his education at the Charterhouse School in Surrey, then at the Royal College of Music at Cambridge in 1890 studying with Sir Hubert Parry.  He then entered Trinity College at Cambridge. 
In 1897 he married Adeline Fisher and later that same year he went to Germany to study with the composer Max Bruch.  He returned to the Royal College of Music in 1905 to study with Charles Villiers Stanford and in 1908 studied in Paris with Maurice Ravel.
Much of his lifetime he had avoided all honors with the exception of the Buckingham Palace Order of Merit, it was awarded in the 1935 the King's Honors List for his services to music.  He was always an active and vocal humanist.  He served as a lieutenant in World War I.  Before World War II, he denounced the Nazi regime and the banning of his music in Germany and at the start of the Second World War he began composing film music to aid with the war effort.  In 1941, he started to compose movie scores and he composed 11 motion picture scores.  He even turned a movie score, Scott of the Antarctic, into his 7th Symphony musical composition.  His wife Adeline died in 1951 and he later married Ursula Wood.
His professional career spanned more than six decades and he was involved in all musical genres, he wrote nine symphonies, five operas, film music, ballet and stage music, church music and works for chorus and orchestra.  Many of his works were performed at church services, this was somewhat ironic since he was a professed atheist throughout his life. 
He died in his sleep on August 26th, 1958 of a heart attack in London and was survived by his second wife Ursula Vaughan Williams, she served as honorary president of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society until her death in 2007.
Ralph Williams