Symphony No. 4 (Vaughan Williams)

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The Symphony No. 4 in F minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams was dedicated by the composer to Arnold Bax.

Unlike Vaughan Williams's first three symphonies it was not given a title, the composer stating that it was to be understood as pure music, without any incidental or external inspiration.

In contrast to many of Vaughan Williams's previous compositions, the symphony displays a severity of tone. The composer himself once observed of it, "I'm not at all sure that I like it myself now. All I know is that it's what I wanted to do at the time." The British composer Sir William Walton admired the work greatly, speaking of it as "the greatest symphony since Beethoven". Only two symphonies of Vaughan Williams end loudly, No.4 and No.8.

The work was first performed on 10 April 1935 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult. Its first recording, made two years later, featured the composer himself conducting the same orchestra in what proved to be his only commercial recording of any of his symphonies. It was released on 78-rpm discs in the U.K. by HMV and in the U.S. by RCA Victor, and has been reissued on LP and CD.[1]

The U.S. Premiere was given on 19 December 1935 by Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra. The earliest American performance to have survived in recorded form was the broadcast of 14 March 1943 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. It was the only time he conducted the work in his entire career and his performance has been issued on CD by Cala Records.

The work is in four movements with the third and fourth linked:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Scherzo : allegro molto
  4. Finale con epilogo fugato : allegro molto

A typical performance takes about 32 minutes. It is scored for a large orchestra including:


The Fourth is the only Vaughan Williams symphony to have received as many recordings by non-British conductors as by British ones. The list of the former includes Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein, both with the New York Philharmonic. It was also recorded by André Previn, Leonard Slatkin, Paavo Berglund and Bernard Haitink. British conductors who have recorded the work—in addition to the composer himself—include Sir Adrian Boult, Vernon Handley, Paul Daniel, Richard Hickox and Sir Andrew Davis, as well as Leopold Stokowski in the 'live' war-time broadcast referred to above.

In 2011, the Oregon Symphony performed and recorded the composition for Music for a Time of War.[2]


  1. ^ Vaughan Williams conducts Vaughan Williams [from Amazon website]. Retrieved 2011-07-10.
  2. ^ "Music for a Time of War". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved November 13, 2012. 

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