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Vaughan Williams: 3

With the death of Holst in 1934, the warmth of Vaughan Williams' earlier style returned. The opera Sir John in Love (Vaughan Williams, after Shakespeare, 1928), from which Ralph Greaves arranged the Fantastia on Greensleeves, had kept this quality alive during the 1920s, and in the next decade it was amply demonstrated in the sensuously-ravishing Serenade to Music (Shakespeare, 1938) for sixteen soloists, chorus and orchestra, and the rich, glowing textures of the Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" (1939) for string orchestra and harp(s). This development culminated in the splendour and spiritual security of the Fifth Symphony (1943). That Vaughan Williams, now in his seventies, could follow this symphony with another, the Sixth (1947), which, from its opening minor-major clash to its desolate, antihuman epilogue, negates the message of the Fifth, is evidence of a remarkable range of expression.

Although bitterly disappointed by the failure of the morality opera The Pilgrim's Progress (Vaughan Williams, after Bunyan, 1949) at its premiere at Covent Garden in 1951, Vaughan Williams found new reserves of energy to marry a second time (Ursula Wood in 1953), to undertake a lecture tour in the United States in 1954, and to continue composing. His involvement with film, which had begun in 1940 with 49th Parallel (1941) and Coastal Command (1942), now impinged on his symphonic writing when he transformed his score for Scott of the Antarctic (1948) into his Seventh Symphony, Sinfonia Antarctica (1952), characterized by a renewed interest in unusual sounds, particularly those of the tuned percussion. This feature he explored further in the lighthearted and exuberant Eighth Symphony (1955). Finally, conflicts similar to those in the Sixth Symphony can be heard in the sombre, tough Ninth Symphony (1957), but here they find a hard-won resolution of qualified hope.