Symphony No. 4 (Vaughan Williams)

The Symphony No. 4 in F minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams was dedicated by the composer to Arnold Bax.

Unlike Vaughan Williams's first three symphonies, it was not given a title, the composer stating that it was to be understood as pure music, without any incidental or external inspiration.

In contrast to many of Vaughan Williams's previous compositions, the symphony displays a severity of tone. The composer himself once observed of it, "I'm not at all sure that I like it myself now. All I know is that it's what I wanted to do at the time." The British composer Sir William Walton admired the work greatly, speaking of it as "the greatest symphony since Beethoven". Only two symphonies of Vaughan Williams end loudly, No. 4 and No. 8.

The work was first performed on 10 April 1935 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult. Its first recording, made two years later, featured the composer himself conducting the same orchestra in what proved to be his only commercial recording of any of his symphonies. It was released on 78-rpm discs in the U.K. by HMV and in the U.S. by RCA Victor, and has been reissued on LP and CD.[1]

The United States premiere was given on 19 December 1935 by Artur Rodziński and the Cleveland Orchestra. The earliest American performance to have survived in recorded form was the broadcast of 14 March 1943 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. It was the only time he ever conducted the work and his performance has been issued on CD by Cala Records.


The work is in four movements with the third and fourth linked:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Scherzo : allegro molto
  4. Finale con epilogo fugato : allegro molto

A typical performance takes about 32 minutes.

Opening dissonance of the first movement:

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key f \minor \time 6/4 \tempo "Allegro" 2. = 96 << { des2.~( des2 c4) } \\ { c,1.\ff } >> }

Germinal motive that develops out of the opening dissonance:

 \relative c'' { \clef treble \key f \minor \time 6/4 \tempo "Allegro" 2. = 96 e2.-> ees-> | f-> e-> }

Motive built of fourths (measure 14-15):

 { \new PianoStaff << \new Staff \relative c' { \clef treble \key f \minor \time 6/4 \tempo "Allegro" 2. = 96 \partial 2*1 f2--\ff | bes-- ees-- <ges des>--~ | <ges des>8 } \new Staff \relative c' { \clef bass \key f \minor \time 6/4 <c bes bes,>2-- | <f c ees, ees,>-- <f bes, bes, bes,>-- <des ges, f, f,>--~ | <des ges, f, f,>8 } >> }


The symphony is scored for a large orchestra including: 2 or 3 flutes (2nd doubling on piccolo), 2 or 3 oboes (2nd doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets (in B♭), bass clarinet (in B♭) (ad lib.), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon (ad lib.), 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in C), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, side drum, cymbals, bass drum, strings.


The Fourth is the only Vaughan Williams symphony to have received as many recordings by non-British conductors as by British ones. The list of the former includes Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein, both with the New York Philharmonic. It was also recorded by André Previn, Leonard Slatkin, Paavo Berglund, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Bernard Haitink. British conductors who have recorded the work—in addition to the composer himself—include Sir Malcolm Sargent (with the BBC Symphony Orchestra) Sir Adrian Boult, Vernon Handley, Paul Daniel, Richard Hickox and Sir Andrew Davis, as well as Leopold Stokowski in the 'live' war-time broadcast referred to above. In 2011 the Oregon Symphony performed and recorded it for Music for a Time of War.[2]

Peggy Glanville-Hicks' claim

His student, the Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks, claimed that he had borrowed the opening theme of the first movement from her Sinfonietta for Small Orchestra in D minor (1935), and that she in turn borrowed it back for her opera The Transposed Heads (1953). Glanville-Hicks did not complete her Sinfonietta until three months after the premiere of Vaughan Williams's symphony, but she was writing it at the same time as the composition of the symphony.[3]


  1. Vaughan Williams conducts Vaughan Williams [from Amazon website]. Retrieved 2011-07-10.
  2. "Music for a Time of War". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  3. Victoria Rogers, The Music of Peggy Glanville-Hicks, p. 30. Retrieved 11 May 2016

External links

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