Songs of Travel

From Wind Repertory Project
Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams (arr. Donald Patterson)

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General Info

Year: 1901-4 /
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: U.S. Marine Band
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


1. The Vagabond - 3:00
2. Let Beauty Awake
3. The Roadside Fire
4. Whither Must I Wander - 3:25
5. I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Songs of Travel was among British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ first forays into writing songs, and it coincided with a very important time in his compositional career. The songs were composed between 1901 and 1904 when the young Vaughan Williams was beginning to emerge as a unique voice among the luminaries of English classical music. It was the same year he completed this song cycle, in 1904, that he also discovered his passion for the traditional English folk songs that would become a central character in the next fifty years of his compositional life. Although Songs of Travel immediately predates this period, this music is filled with folk-like character. The pairing of Vaughan Williams’ lush and evocative music with the colorful prose of Robert Louis Stevenson brings to life these stories of a weary wanderer in search of something meaningful.

The nine songs in the cycle were originally conceived by Vaughan Williams as a set, but the first eight were released and published separately in two volumes in 1903 and 1905. These first eight songs were performed together in 1904; the final song in the modern edition of the cycle, I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope was clearly composed as an epilogue to the entire narrative of the collection, but was not formally published and performed until 1960, when Vaughan Williams’ widow discovered it among his papers after the composer’s death. All of the songs were originally composed for baritone voice and piano, but Vaughan Williams orchestrated the first, third, and eighth songs almost immediately after their composition. His assistant, Roy Douglas, orchestrated the remaining songs with the same instrumentation several years after Vaughan Williams’ passing.

Marine Band music production chief Master Sergeant Donald Patterson has crafted a transcription of five of the Songs of Travel specifically for the Marine Band. The Vagabond introduces the traveler, with heavy tramping chords depicting a rough journey on the open road and through the English countryside. The vocal line in Let Beauty Awake evokes the images of dawn and dusk with a long and languid melody that floats over soft arpeggios in the accompaniment. The tone shifts in The Roadside Fire, as the traveler delights in envisioning a life and home with a new-found love. Whither Must I Wander is the earliest song composed of the set and shares its character with Vaughan Williams’ most famous song, Linden Lea, which was composed the year before. It is a bittersweet reminiscence of warm memories of home and family, now lost to the traveler’s past and never to return. The epilogue, I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope recounts fragments of several musical themes from the other songs in the cycle as the weary traveler remembers his experiences one final time before he “closes the door.”

- Program Note from U.S. Marine Band concert program, 22 March 2015


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State Ratings

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