Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem
When Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was asked by the Huddersfield Choral Society to write a piece in celebration of their centennial in 1937, he produced a powerful plea for peace in Dona Nobis Pacem. The outlook of renewed war in Europe was all too real with the rise of Nazism and Fascism, with civil war in Spain and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and was of huge concern to those like Vaughan Williams himself who had personally experienced the carnage and destruction of World War I. when deciding text for Dona Nobis Pacem, Vaughan Williams turned to the poetry of Walt Whitman. Dona Nobis Pacem is divided into six sections, but the music proceeds without pause.
Part I opens with the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) text from the Latin mass, sung first by the soprano solo. The music becomes increasingly sorrowful as the full orchestra and chorus enter, repeatedly crying out dona, dona nobis pacem (grant us peace.) The drum beats and trumpet calls swell as Part II opens, using Whitman's poem Beat! beat! drums!, Mostly parallel fourths are used throughout the piece reinforcing the warlike character of movement. Part III, opens with a beautiful, peaceful melody featuring a solo violin obligato. The text is Whitman's wonderful poem of consolation, Reconciliation, sung first by the baritone solo and then by the chorus. Part IV returns to a setting of Whitman's Dirge for Two Veterans that he had originally written between 1911 and 1914. The movement opens with a funeral march, the steady beat of the drums echoing the second movement. The music swells to a heroic march, but is followed immediately by the spectral image of a grieving mother bearing silent witness to the proceedings, and suddenly the heroic music rings a little hollow. The next section opens with a baritone recitative of an excerpt from a speech made by John Bright, a member of the House of Commons, during the debate on the Crimean War. The chorus enters on a...
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