Monday, 12 October 2020

'Great Uncle Charles thinks it took longer...'

 On this day in 1872, Ralph Vaughan Williams – the greatest English composer since Purcell (in my book anyway) – was born at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, where his father was Vicar. When Ralph was only two, his father died, and his mother, one of the gifted Wedgwood-Darwin clan, took him and his siblings to live at her family home, Leith Hill Place in Surrey. While there, the young RVW started playing piano – and composing – at the age of five, and, at eight, took a correspondence course in music with Edinburgh University and passed the exams. 
  Ralph's mother was a niece of Charles Darwin, and the latter's theories expounded in The Origin of Species perplexed the young RVW, who asked his mother how they could be reconciled with Scripture. 'Well,' she explained, 'the Bible says God made the world in six days. Great Uncle Charles thinks it took longer – but we need not worry about it, for it is equally wonderful either way.' Which is true enough, if not the most penetrating reading of Darwin's theory. 
  Vaughan Williams grew up to become the most Christian of Christian agnostics, and to write some of our finest hymns – including this one, a perfect blending of words and music, to which he gave the name of his natal village: Down Ampney...