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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (Clarendon Paperbacks)
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on 13 November 2015
Kennedy is superb on RVW music. His musical insights seem to me entirely valid; his music examples are apt and concise enough to make their points without overwhelming one in technical detail. His biographical sections are relatively brief but cover a lot of ground in a way that illuminates the life by reference to the work and vice versa; it's a far more focused and effective way of telling a life story than RVW's own wife managed in her companion volume, in my view.

Kennedy is, of course, authoritative in many ways: I love the almost-casual way he mentions that 'in a conversation I had with Vaughan WIlliams in the last month of his life...'. The two were firm friends for many years and Kennedy's love for the elder man's work -and indeed for the man himself- is evident on almost every page.

I'd give this 5 stars except for two things: one, the printing is awful. The font looks like it is fresh out of the 1920s.
And the second is that the 'select list of works' (the much-trumpeted index added to the second edition) is only in chronological order (there is no index by genre, for example). It's also out-of-date and incomplete, given more recent scholarship.

Still strongly recommended if you want to know RVW, man and music, better, though.
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on 18 August 2017
My mother in law thought this was very informative and a great read
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on 29 January 2015
Michael Kennedy, who died in 2014, wrote this book in 1964, with a second edition in 1980. The first edition had no index, which limited its value as a reference book, but this was corrected and now there is a select list of works in chronological order, an index of all the works and a general index. There is almost no change between the editions in the body of the book because, as Kennedy writes in the preface: ‘there have been no major revelations’ and ‘my opinions of the music have changed hardly at all’.
Vaughan Williams (RVW) asked Kennedy to write this book on his music and Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer’s wife, to write his biography, which is also published by the Clarendon Press.
Kennedy was for most of his working life associated with the Daily Telegraph: he was the northern editor and then the music critic for that paper. During the war, at sea with the Royal Navy, he wrote to Vaughan Williams while feeling homesick, saying how much he admired his fifth symphony. The composer replied, to Kennedy’s surprise, expressing the hope that they would meet one day. They became close friends and Kennedy became the leading authority on the Vaughan Williams for decades and was closely associated with the Vaughan Williams Society. He has written fine books on Elgar, Richard Strauss, Walton and Barbirolli as well.
A short introductory chapter, The Land without Music, describes the state of classical music in the United Kingdom, England in particular, at the end of the 19th century. The following chapter discusses Vaughan Williams childhood and education, taking us to 1895. Next is a discussion of folksong and nationalism in music, and RVW’s desire to create an English style of music, free of the Teutonic hegemony prevailing at the time . Then the works are discussed in time periods, with the principal works listed at the beginning of the chapter. Many of the early works discussed have since been recorded and here the reader is in a better position than Kennedy himself as the composer suppressed them. For example, the tone poem The Solent, and the original version of A London Symphony.
Following the discussion of the works, there is an intriguing chapter devoted to Vaughan Williams’s views on other composers. He could be unfair: he described Mahler as ‘a tolerable imitation of a composer’, and remarked of that the notes in the composer’s Resurrection symphony as sounding ‘painfully right’ to him. But many today would still echo his description of the serialists as ‘the wrong note school’. Finally, Kennedy describes his own relationship with RVW.
The first two appendices consist of letters to RVW’s cousin, Ralph Wedgwood and those to Henry J. Wood, father of the Proms.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2012
The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams by Michael Kennedy, Oxford University Press, 1964, 416 ff.

Whenever I need to look up some details of the life or works of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams there are two books that I turn to - one is this book by Michael Kennedy, who was a close friend of the composer and who is always a reliable source regarding biographies of composers and performers on the English scene in the 20th century. The other sourcebook I use is the biography of the composer by James Day in Dent's Master Musicians series. The biography works through successive periods of the composer's life and there are a few illuminating musical examples along the way to demonstrate points made in the text. Although his melodies often called on those of the first Elizabethan era and of traditional folk songs, his musical structures and harmonies were very much of the 20th century. He wrote nine symphonies but, perhaps because of their length, his best-known compositions are his tone poems, many capturing the atmosphere of the English pastoral scene. There are no appendices to the text and no index, which I find a distinct disadvantage. There is I believe a subsequent edition in 1980 which does have a list of the composer's works and an Index.

Vaughan Williams (Master Musician)
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on 18 February 2012
I was looking forward to reading this book, albeit having read previous reviews on Amazon.

The reviews were accurate - Kennedy is an ardent disciple and whatever problems there were in the musical world they were avowedly not Vaughan Williams'. Having said that Vaughan Williams is a unmistakeable - surely the mark of a great composer. A musical hero in the same way as is Sibelius.

The book sticks fairly strictly to Vaughan Willams' published works - one only gets a glimpse of the rest of his life.

The book now available in paperback is a copy of the second edition; a third might be advisable. The Amazon paperback is actually a facsimile, printed for Amazon,by the look of it, and at £28 plus for a paperback is not cheap. There are a number of typographical errors I would not have expected, together with idiosyncratic spelling which a more compelling editor might have queried and some of the lettering is missing in places.

Perhaps these are small details and minor quibles, but not at that price. Even the paper has the feel of a facsimile printing - it needs looking at. An interesting book, then, but on reflection I would have chosen to buy an original secondhand edition. I felt short-changed by the product, rather than the content.

I shall have to read the biography by Ursula VW, his second wife, to give another perspective on his life.
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on 30 April 2011
The book is in a good condition.
Unfortunately it did not have the full appendix which gives all the collected works of RVW.
Fortunately I have a friend who can let me see his copy which does have the full collected works included.
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