Influences on The Early Works of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

Influences on The Early Works of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Later in their careers, Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams gained fame from their unique creativity and modern expression, but the young composers began their careers drawing on influences from family and music exposures. The pre-World War I compositions of Holst and Vaughan Williams evolve as the composers collect life experiences and these influences can be heard in this early music. Yet, the music of both young Holst and young Vaughan Williams also present very original aspects that presage the genius of their later works. Although both musicians were heavily influenced by their upbringings, popular composers, and even each other, it was those very same influences that ultimately led to their distinctive individualities.
Biographer Richard Capell says music was Holst’s “family language.” Holst’s great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and others in his family were all musicians. Because family is as great an influence as life can bring, his family led him to a lifelong attachment to the trombone, an instrument that was introduced to him as a child to combat asthma and later became his most reliable source of income. (Capell, 1926). Vaughan Williams’ childhood, by contrast, was occupied in large part by reading and education. He was encouraged to read appropriate literature of all kinds, including plays, poetry and prose and also the Prayer Book and Bible. Less appropriate material for a child, such as newspapers, was “available through Aunt Sophie’s economical cutting squares of newspaper for lavatory use” according to Vaughan Williams’ wife, Ursula, in writing of her husband. Although Vaughan Williams received music lessons from this aunt, unlike Holst, Vaughan Williams’ family language was literature and the u...

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Vaughan Williams's Choice of Words
William Kimmel
Music & Letters, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1938), pp. 132-142
Published by: Oxford University Press
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Music & Letters, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1920), pp. 78-86
Published by: Oxford University Press
Ralph Vaughan Williams and His Choice of Words for Music
Ursula Vaughan Williams
Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 99, (1972 - 1973), pp. 81-89
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Royal Musical Association
Stable URL:

“Ralph Vaughan Williams." International Dictionary of Opera. 2 vols. St. James Press, 1993.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.

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