Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music

by Max Derrickson

Ralph Vaughan Williams     (Born in Down Ampney, England, 1872; died in London, 1958)

Serenade to Music

Vaughan Williams composed this work in 1938 for a jubilee concert in honor of the British conductor Sir Henry Wood.  Wood was best known for his introduction of the yearly musical celebration called the “Proms” which are still happening in England today.

Appropriately, Vaughan Williams honored another great British icon to provide the text of this occasional piece, William Shakespeare.  Thirty-three lines from Act V of The Merchant of Venice, so sweet their words, have come to be called the Serenade to Music, and Vaughan Williams appropriately named his musical counterpart the same.  For the event, Vaughan Williams and Sir Wood chose 16 of the best singers in the world to render the vocal parts along with Vaughan Williams’ lush orchestral accompaniment.  Soon after, the composer arranged it in various ways, but perhaps most successful is the version for chorus and orchestra.

Serenade to Music – from The Merchant of Venice

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears.
Soft stillness and the night
Become touches of sweet harmony.

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