septiembre 2019
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Ralph Vaughan Williams


¤  The Pilgrim’s Progress

An opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, based on John Bunyan‘s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. The composer himself described the work as a ‘Morality’ rather than an opera. Nonetheless, he intended the work to be performed on stage, rather than in a church or cathedral. Vaughan Williams himself prepared the libretto, with interpolations from the Bible and also text from his wife, Ursula. His changes to the story included altering the name of the central character from ‘Christian’ to ‘Pilgrim’, so as to universalize the spiritual message  […]  The opera contains 41 individual singing roles.

¤  Synopsis  ↓

•  Prologue   –   Bunyan in Prisonpp

The opera opens to the chords of the psalm tune ‘York’. John Bunyan is in Bedford Gaol, completing his book The Pilgrim’s Progress. He stands, faces the audience, and begins to read from the opening of the book. As he does so, a vision of Pilgrim appears, carrying his burden. A curtain falls to conceal Bunyan, and Pilgrim is alone on stage, reading and in a state of lamentation.

•  Act 1

Scene 1:  The Pilgrim meets Evangelist

Evangelist directs Pilgrim towards the Wicket Gate. Four neighbors, Pliable, Obstinate, Mistrust and Timorous, appear to warn Pilgrim away from his journey. But Pilgrim dismisses them and continues.

Scene 2:  The House Beautiful

Outside of the House Beautiful, Pilgrim «stumbles up to the Cross» and kneels before it. From off-stage, the voices of Three Shining Ones are heard. They then greet Pilgrim and relieve him of his burden. After Pilgrim knocks on the door of the House Beautiful, the Interpreter bids him welcome, as a chorus greets him. The Interpreter marks Pilgrim’s forehead in blessing, and after receiving a white robe, Pilgrim enters the House.

Nocturne (Intermezzo)

Watchful, the house porter, prays for the safety of the house’s denizens and for them to enjoy the blessings of sleep.

• Act 2

Scene 1:  The Arming of the Pilgrim

The Herald asks who will go forth on the King’s highway. Pilgrim volunteers, and a scribe notes his name in a book. Pilgrim then receives «armour of proof», and begins his journey.

Scene 2:  The Pilgrim meets Apollyon

In the Valley of Humiliation, a chorus of Doleful Creatures, howling, surrounds Pilgrim as he enters. Apollyon enters and challenges Pilgrim in single combat, but Pilgrim prevails. The fight has exhausted Pilgrim, but two Heavenly Beings, Branch Bearer and Cup Bearer, restore Pilgrim with leaves from the Tree of Life and water from the Water of Life. Evangelist then returns and gives Pilgrim the Staff of Salvation, the Roll of the Word and the Key of Promise. He also warns Pilgrim to take care at town of Vanity.

• Act 3

Scene 1:  Vanity Fair

At the fair in the town of Vanity, «all the pleasures of man» are for sale. Pilgrim enters, and averts his eyes from Vanity Fair as the crowd surrounds him and offers their wares, from Lord Lechery to Madam Bubble and Madam Wanton. The crowd asks what Pilgrim will buy, and he replies: «I buy the truth!» The crowd mocks Pilgrim, who denounces them as followers of Beelzebub. Lord Hate-good then appears, before whom the crowd brings Pilgrim. Witnesses, including Superstition, Envy, Pickthank and Malice, as well as Madam Bubble and Madam Wanton denounce Pilgrim. Lord Hate-good asks for the crowd’s verdict, and they demand death. Lord Hate-good orders Pilgrim to be imprisoned.

Scene 2:  The Pilgrim in Prison

Pilgrim laments that God has forsaken him. In his despair, clutches at his chest. He feels the Key of Promise, and after he has put it in the lock, he is instantly freed from prison and his bonds are gone. He resumes his journey.

•  Act 4

Scene 1: The Pilgrim meets Mister By-Ends

The Woodcutter’s Boy is chopping firewood at the edge of a forest when Pilgrim enters, asking how far there is to go to the Celestial City. The Boy replies «not far», and points out that one can see the Delectable Mountains on a clear day, The Boy then notices Mister and Madam By-Ends as they approach. Mister By-Ends points out that he has become a «gentleman of quality». He offers to keep the Pilgrim company on his journey, but Pilgrim replies that those who would travel with him must be willing to stand «against the wind and tide». Mister and Madam By-Ends refuse, preferring creature comforts and his «old principles» to poverty. They leave, and Pilgrim resumes his journey.


Scene 2:  The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains

At the Delectable Mountains, three Shepherds are at evening prayer. Pilgrim approaches them and asks if he is on the path to the Celestial City. They reply yes, and after asking why he wishes to journey there, invite Pilgrim to rest with them momentarily. The voice of a bird sings praises to God. A Celestial Messenger appears and tells Pilgrim that «the Master» summons him that day. The Messenger ceremonially pierces Pilgrim’s heart with an arrow «with the point sharpened with love». The Shepherds anoint Pilgrim. The Messenger directs Pilgrim on the path to the Celestial City, to which he must first cross the River of Death. The Shepherds pray for Pilgrim.

Scene 3:  The Pilgrim reaches the End of his Journey

In darkness, a trumpet sounds in the distance. The scene brightens, and voices from Heaven welcome Pilgrim to the Celestial City, at the completion of his journey.


Back in Bedford Gaol, again with the ‘York’ psalm tune present, Bunyan addresses the audience, holding out his book as an offering.

¤   Excerpts

•  Nocturne  ↓  (Intermezzo)

The stage is dark (having gradually darkened at the end of Act I).
Watchful  (off stage)
Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.  (coming on stage)
Into Thy hands, O Lord.   (He turns to the house and blesses it.)
Except the Lord keep the house, the watchman waketh but in vain.
The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep peace.
The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet. Into Thy hands, O Lord,
I commend my spirit, into Thy hands, O Lord.
(Watchful comes slowly down stage. When he gets right to the front a curtain falls behind him.)
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh
my help. My help cometh even from the Lord, who hath
made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to
be moved; he that keepeth thee will not sleep.
Behold He that keepeth thee shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord himself is thy keeper, He shall preserve thee from
all evil: it is even he that shall keep thy soul, from this
time forth for ever more.
(Watchful goes slowly off stage.)
Into thy hands I commend my spirit, into thy hands, O Lord.
(The stage lights up gradually behind the curtain.)

¤  .  .  .  Act III

I buy the truth!
The truth! Ha, ha, ha, ha! He buys the truth!
Pontius Pilate
What is truth?
Ha, ha, ha, ha! what is truth?
I buy the truth! As for your Prince Beelzebub, the father of
lies, I defy him and all his angels!
Beelzebub, Beelzebub, the father of lies! He buys the truth, he turns his eyes from vanity,

he raileth at the great ones of our town, he raileth at our noble Prince Beelzebub, the father of lies.
Away from me, ye workers of iniquity!

Ye whore mongers, murderers and idolaters and all that maketh and telleth a lie.
Way there for Lord Hate-Good! Way for Lord Hate-Good!
Lord Hate-Good
What means this hubbub? Who is this man? What does he here? Bring him before me!
Seize him! Smite him! Away with him! Kill him! Burn him! Away with such a fellow from the earth.
Lord Hate-Good
Silence there —
Silence there!
Lord Hate-Good
— What is the accusation against him?
My Lord, the accusation is that he is an enemy to and a disturber of our trade

and has made commotions and divisions in our town in contempt of our Prince Beelzebub.
Lord Hate-Good
Call the witnesses that they may give evidence against this man.
All they that have aught to say against this man for our Prince Beelzebub,

let them forthwith appear and give their evidence.
My Lord, this man regardeth Prince nor people, law nor custom.
He doth at once not only condemn our laudable doings but us in the doing of them.
But us in the doing of them.
But us in the doing of them.
My Lord, he is a pestilent fellow, —
A pestilent fellow!
I heard him say our religion was naught.


Whence it follows –Follows
Superstition — that we do worship in vain,
Worship in vain — Superstition — are yet in our sins.
Yet in our sins — Superstition — and finally shall be damned!
Malice, Pickthank, Superstition, Envy

My Lord, he hath spoken things that ought not be spoke.

He hath railed against the worthy gentry of this town.

Besides, he hath not been afraid to rail on you, my Lord,

who art now appointed to be his judge.

And this is that which I have to say.
Madam Bubble, Madam Wanton
My Lord, he must not escape us.
Lord Hate-Good
Come forward, sweet ladies.
Lord Lechery
My Lord, I would say much against him.
Lord Hate-Good
Speak on, my Lord Lechery.
Madam Wanton, Madam Bubble, Lord Lechery
My Lord!
Madam Wanton, Madam Bubble
He would be always condemning our ways.
Lord Hate-Good
He would not consent to you?
Lord Lechery
He made light of our merchandise. My heart riseth against him.

O! my Lord, he hath called us idolaters.

O! my Lord he hath called us whoremongers and liars! liars! liars! liars! liars!
I see clearly, this man is a heretic, Seize him! He shall be condemned.

Hang him! Hang him! He hath broken the law.
Madam Wanton, Madam Bubble
My Lord! he hath rebuked us not once or twice,

O! my Lord! O! my Lord, he hath called us idolaters.

O! my Lord, he hath called us whoremongers and liars! liars! liars! liars! liars!
Lord Hate-Good
A pretty fellow truly! I hate the very looks of him. I will not endure him.

He is a villain; an enemy; here is crime apparent. He is worthy to die.
Away with such a fellow from the earth! Seize him! He shall be condemned.

Hang him! Hang him! He hath broken the law.
He disputeth against our religion. Seize him! He shall be condemned.

Hanging is too good for him. He hath broken the law.
Come let us bind him, scourge him. Come let us stone him, hang him, burn him.
He is a rogue, a sorry scrub. Seize him! He shall be condemned.

Hanging is too good for him. He hath broken the law.
Let us despatch him out of the way!
My Lord! He regardeth not Prince nor people, law nor custom. My Lord! He is a pestilent fellow.

I heard him say that our religion was naught. My Lord, he defies our noble gentry,

Lord Old Man, Lord Carnal Delight, Lord Luxurious, and above all our noble Prince Beelzebub! Lord Hate-Good
Silence again.
Silence again for the great judge my Lord Hate-Good.
Lord Hate-Good
Honourable citizens of our worthy town of Vanity, what is your verdict?
He is guilty of death.
Lord Hate-Good
Thou runagate, traitor and heretic, thou deservest to live no longer, thy treason is confessed.

Thou hast reviled our noble Prince Beelzebub.
The father of lies.
Lord Hate-Good
Bind him and throw him into prison. Tomorrow he shall die the death!
Ah! Hold him! The traitor, take him! Away with him! Bind him and make him fast in prison, for he shall die the death.

Away with him! Shall he revile our noble prince! Stone him! Our noble Prince Beelzebub! Burn him!

Away with him! He is guilty of death. He shall perish in torment, he shall be slain immediately upon the place.

Away, away with him! He is guilty! guilty! Away with him! Guilty, guilty of death!

•  Scene 2  ↓

The Pilgrim in Prison
The curtains part and show the interior of a prison, with large gates. Outside the gates it is dark.
Pilgrim (coming slowly to himself)
My God, my God look upon me, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Why art Thou so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?

O my God, I cry unto Thee in the day-time, but Thou hearest not.
And in the night season I take no rest.
All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out their lips,
saying: ‘He trusted in God that he would deliver him,
let him deliver him if he delight in him.’
O be Thou not far from me, for trouble is hard at hand,
and there is no-one to help me. They gape upon me
with their mouths, as it were a ramping and a roaring lion.
Is Thy mercy clean gone for ever?
Doth Thy promise fail forever more?
Hath God forgotten to be gracious, that He in anger shut up His tender mercies?
(He clutches at his breast.)
O fool that I am! In my bosom lies the key of Promise.
Wherefore should I lie in bondage,
when I might walk at liberty on the King’s highway?
(He takes the key out of his bosom.)
The Key! The way of freedom!
(He stands up, his bonds fall off him.)
Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go into them.
(He puts the key in the lock. The gates fly open. The moon shines out brightly. The distant landscape remains vague.)
Show me Thy way, O Lord, teach me Thy paths.
(The stars begin to appear)
I will lift up mine eyes to Heaven and the stars and all the host of Heaven.
Behold the stars how high they are. Is not God in the
height of Heaven? If I ascend up into Heaven Thou art
there. If I make my bed in Hell, behold, Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost
parts of the sea; even there Thy hand shall guide me,
and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say: ‘Surely the
darkness shall cover me’, even the night shall be light
about me. The darkness is no darkness with Thee: but
the night shineth as the day. The darkness and the light
to Thee are both alike. But Thy word is a lantern unto
my feet and a light unto my path.
(The moon shines brighter. The Pilgrim’s way is seen clearly, stretching into the distance.)
Lead me, Lord, make my ways straight before my face. And
let all men that put their trust in Thee rejoice.
They shall be ever giving thanks to Thee.
They shall be joyful in Thee!
(Pilgrim goes slowly through the gates, and is seen for a long time walking up the Pilgrim’s Way.)

¤   . . .  Act IV

•  Scene 3  ↓

The Pilgrim reaches the End of his Journey
It is quite dark. We hear a very distant trumpet sound, and a Chorus gradually getting nearer.

Voices from Heaven (Chorus, distant)
Alleluia, Alleluia.
(Tenor solo, back stage)
Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, they will always be praising Thee.

(Chorus, back stage) Alleluia, Alleluia.
(with Chorus, front stage) Alleluia, Alleluia.
(Alto solo, back stage)
Behold thy Salvation cometh and his reward is with him.
(Chorus, back stage) Alleluia, Alleluia.
(with chorus, front stage) Alleluia, Alleluia.
(The Trumpet sounds again, nearer.)
(Here the back of the stage lights up quickly. Full light at the end of the trumpet call. The Pilgrim’s Way is seen
leading up to the golden Gates, above which stand stands the Trumpeter. All around are heavenly beings grouped in
circles like a mediaeval Italian picture. Though brilliantly lit, the whole is behind gauze so that the whole effect is
vague, the front stage with its singers remaining in darkness.)
(Solo, soprano, back stage)
Blessing and glory, honour and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, for ever and ever.

(Chorus, front stage) Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.
(Chorus, back stage) Alleluia, Alleluia.
(Here, behind the gauze, the Pilgrim is seen coming up the way to the gate. Heavenly Beings come to greet him. They stand up and raise their arms.)
(Both Choruses, raising their hands) Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
(The singing fades away as the stage darkens. A curtain falls, hiding all but the very front of the stage.)

•  Epilogue
John Bunyan enters in front of the curtain and walks slowly to the centre of the stage.
Now hearer,  I have told my dream to thee.
See if thou can’st interpret it to me.
Put by the curtains, look within my veil,
Turn up my metaphors and do not fail.
There if thou seekest them, such things to find
As will be helpful to an honest mind.
(He takes a book out of his wallet)
This book will make a traveller of thee,
If by its counsel thou wilt ruled be.
It will direct thee to the Holy Land.
If thou wilt its directions understand.
O, then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head and heart together.
(He holds out the book with both hands, as if offering it to the audience, and remains quite still till the final curtain falls.)

¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶  ¶

¤  Hugh the Drover/ Love In The Stocks

◊  James Johnston «Songs of the Road»→

Philharmonia Orchestra_James Robertson, conductor_London _1950


Horse hoofs, horse hoofs, thunder down the valleys:
Foaming manes and tossing tails, strength and speed and fire.
Thudding, thudding, scampering, checks and sudden sallies.
Hear them up the mountain, higher still and higher,
Till we meet the wind, race the wind and down the hollows.
Drive the wind before us, leave it streaming out behind us:
Up, up again, the panting wind that follows.
Not the wind of heaven itself may dare to catch and bind us.
Horse hoofs, horse hoofs, coming, passing by –
Do they call you in the noonday when the blood runs high?
Camp fires, camp fires – now the west is glowing.
Send their ruddy smoke up to greet the bright’ning moon.
Not a roof to shield your head from free winds blowing,
Not a wall to deaden the water’s lulling tune.
Cooking round the camp fires, busy sounds and cheery,
Meat and drink for belly, and the clinging turf for side.
Oh! to stretch your length when your back and bones are weary!
Dewey sleep on closing eyes from heav’ns open wide.
Camp fires, camp fires, ruddy in the gloom –
Do they call you in the twilight from your sheltered room?


Oh! they call me in the twilight from my sheltered room.


Heart beats, heart beats – all the world is sleeping,
I alone awake, I alone to care.
Ah! to wake alone while the merry stars are peeping,
Ah! to stretch out empty arms and fold a wandering air!
All the scented night breathes of beauty and of loving;
Heart beats answer with a broken cry.
Calling for a bride with courage to go roving,
To dare the world for love beneath the open sky.
Heart beats, heart beats, throbbing for the bride;
Do they call you in the midnight to a strong man’s side?

¤  «Folksongs of the Four Seasons» Part I «SPRING»

The «Folk Songs of the Four Seasons» also called «Cantata for Women’s Voices» is a substantial work by Vaughan Williams, over 40 minutes long, for women’s chorus and orchestra, in which two vital elements in Vaughan Williams’ musical character were combined: his support for amateur music making and his love for English folksongs and –carols.

1. To the Plough Boy (All voices with semi-chorus) Collected by Vaughan Williams in 1904, this is a lively opening song as the chorus exclaim that we should ‘sing and be merry withal’.

2. Early in the Spring (For three voices, unaccompanied). A sweetly lyrical love-song, delicately orchestrated.

3. The Lark in the morning (For two voices). A gracious folk-ballad confirming that there is «no life like the plough-boys in the month of May». The orchestration is reminiscent of the Flower-Girls passages in The Poisoned Kiss.

4. May Song (For full chorus with semi-chorus). A lovely folk-song, from Lucy Broadwood’s collection English County Songs, also used to memorable effect by Vaughan Williams in his ballad opera Hugh the Drover.

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