January 2014

Ralph Vaughan Williams outside Dorking Halls (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Leo Leibovici)

Statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams outside Dorking Halls (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Leo Leibovici)

According to Merriam-Webster:

Fantasia noun

Musical composition free in form and inspiration, often for an instrumental soloist. Most fantasias try to convey the impression of improvisation. The first were Italian works for lute (c. 1530). Keyboard fantasias became common in the late 16th century; both organ and harpsichord fantasias flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain, Germany, and France. Fugal, imitative texture, sometimes highly learned in character, was common from the beginning, often alternating with running passagework and highly chromatic chordal passages in free rhythms. Ensemble fantasias were widely composed as well.

“Fantasia” implies fancy or imagination. The melody that struck Ralph Vaughan Williams’ fancy for his Fantasia is the third psalm tune by Thomas Tallis from his Nine Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (1567). Although it isn’t necessary to know this tune to enjoy the beauty of Vaughan Williams’ work, being familiar with this theme adds depth to the listening experience – one can follow the workings of the composer’s imagination through the evocative harmony of his piece, developed from a simple, hymn-like tune.

Image of Thomas Tallis Thomas Tallis (Engraving by Niccolò Haym after a portrait by Gerard van der Gucht)

Thomas Tallis (Engraving by Niccolò Haym after a portrait by Gerard van der Gucht)

English composer Thomas Tallis (c. 1510-1585) was largely responsible for introducing polyphony (simultaneous lines of independent melody) into English music. Although probably a Catholic at heart, he composed music that suited the simple tastes of the Reformation as one of the first English composers to provide settings for the English liturgy. Simple and unassuming, one of his farthest-reaching works of Anglican music is the nine psalm tunes he composed in four-voice harmony for the 1567 publication of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s English translation of the Psalter. The third of these, which he encountered as Musical Editor of the English Hymnal in the early 1900s, is the melody from which Vaughan Williams drew inspiration for his Fantasia:

Psalm 2:1-2 (NKJV)

Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed…

Psalter text by The Right Reverend Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury

Why fum’th in fight the Gentiles spite, in fury raging stout?
Why tak’th in hand the people fond, vain things to bring about?
The Kings arise, the Lords devise, in counsels met thereto,
against the Lord with false accord, against His Christ they go.

Although quite tame by modern standards, the Archbishop described Tallis’ third melody: “The third doth rage: and roughly bray’th.”

Here is a transcription for organ:


Now listen to Why fum’th in fight:

Now hear Santa Fe Pro Musica perform Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis live:

Classical Weekend
Saturday, January 25 at 6pm
Sunday, January 26 at 3pm

The Lensic Performing Arts Center

Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra
Thomas O’Connor, conductor
Cármelo de los Santos, violin

Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Samuel Barber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21

TICKETS: $20, $35, $45, $65
Santa Fe Pro Musica Box Office: (505) 988-4640
Tickets Santa Fe at the Lensic: (505) 988-1234



“[About] Thomas Tallis – 9 Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter.” Classical Archives. All Music Guide. All Media Guide, LLC., 2008. Web. 7 Jan. 2014 < https://www.classicalarchives.com/work/134341.html#tvf=tracks&tv=about >.

Connock, Stephen. “The Life of Ralph Vaughan Williams.” The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013 < https://www.rvwsociety.com/bio_expanded.html >.

“Fantasia.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2014. < https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fantasia >.

“Thomas Tallis.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2013 < https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/581620/Thomas-Tallis >.


© Santa Fe Pro Musica 2014


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