Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-m42fx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-24T15:49:54.806Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

12 - Vaughan Williams, Boult and The Pilgrim’s Progress

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2022

Get access

Summary

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was a book that fired Vaughan Wil-liams’s imagination for half a century. His fascination with it began in 1906 when he composed the incidental music for a dramatisation performed at Reigate Priory in December 1906 (repeated in London in March 1907). He returned to it in 1922 for the short ‘pastoral episode’, The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains, then for Edward Sackville-West’s 1943 radio play, as an inspiration for the Fifth Symphony, and finally for his great operatic ‘morality’, The Pilgrim’s Progress, first staged at Covent Garden in 1951 – a work that has increasingly come to be seen as one of Vaughan Williams’s crowning achievements.

Boult was involved in preparations for the first performance of The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains and conducted it on a number of occasions in the 1920s; he also conducted the incidental music for Sackville-West’s radio version and, of course, gave many performances of the Fifth Symphony. He made a BBC recording of The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1959 and, following a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall, he recorded it for EMI in 1971.

Vaughan Williams’s agnostic perspective on Pilgrim’s Progress led him to make some changes to Bunyan for the operatic ‘morality’, altering the central character’s name from ‘Christian’ to ‘Pilgrim’. He gave his reason for this in a letter to Rutland Boughton, just after the work’s premiere in May 1951: ‘I, on purpose, did not call the Pilgrim “Christian” because I want the work to be universal and apply to anybody who aims at the spiritual life whether he is Xtian Jew, Buddhist, Shintoist or 5th [!] day Adventist.’

Boughton had suggested a performance of Pilgrim’s Progress at the Three Choirs Festival, to be given by the Covent Garden company in Worcester Cathedral. In the same letter Vaughan Williams explained why he would resist this: ‘As regards the Cathedral – it is, to my mind essentially a stage piece & I said I wd not allow it in a hall or church till it was fully established on the stage.’

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress also had lifelong significance for Boult.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×