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Challenging residual doubts about Vaughan Williams's role and significance within twentieth-century music and culture, this book places and explores his life and music in their broad musical, cultural, social, and political contexts. Chapters by scholars from a range of disciplines re-evaluate the composer's life and career within a world marked by both rapid change and refigured traditions – a world in which cultural and political nationalism was a fact of everyday life. Building on scholarship that has established Vaughan Williams as aesthetically and politically progressive, the book advances a revisionist perspective by broadening understandings of the nature of his responses to modernity. This portrait of a modern composer emerges not merely by focussing on underrepresented interests and pursuits, but also by contextualizing activities that have been misrepresented as merely 'conservative' and 'backward-looking'.
This article examines constructions of national musical identity in early twentieth-century Britain by exploring and contextualizing hitherto neglected discourses and practices concerning the production of an ‘English’ singing voice. Tracing the origins and development of ideas surrounding native vocal performance and pedagogy, I reconstruct a culture of English singing as a backdrop against which to offer, by way of conclusion, a reading of the ‘English voice’ performed in Ralph Vaughan Williams's song ‘Silent Noon’. By drawing upon perspectives derived from recent studies of song, vocal production, and national and aesthetic identity, I demonstrate that ‘song’ became a place in which the literal and figurative voices of performers and composers were drawn together in the making of a national music. As such, I advance a series of new historical perspectives through which to rethink notions of an English musical renaissance.
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