Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis - Ralph Vaughan Williams [HD]

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Ralph Vaughan Williams
Douglas Boyd, Gardner Chamber Orchestra
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, also known as the Tallis Fantasia, is a work for string orchestra by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was composed in 1910 and performed for the first time in September of that year atGloucester Cathedral for the Three Choirs Festival. Vaughan Williams himself conducted, and the composition proved to be a major success. He revised the work twice, in 1913 and 1919. Performances generally run between 14 and 16 minutes.

The work takes its name from the original composer of the melody, Thomas Tallis (c.1505--1585). Many of Vaughan Williams' works are associated with or inspired by the music of the English Renaissance. In 1906 Vaughan Williams included Tallis's Third Mode Melody in the English Hymnal, which he was then editing, as the melody for Joseph Addison's hymn When Rising from the Bed of Death. The tune is in Double Common Meter (D.C.M. or C.M.D.).


The work is scored for an expanded string orchestra divided into three parts: orchestra I, a full-sized string orchestra; orchestra II, a single desk from each section (ideally placed apart from Orchestra I); and a string quartet. Vaughan Williams made this configuration resemble an organ in sound, with the quartet representing the swell division, orchestra II the choir division, and orchestra I the great division. The score specifies that the second orchestra should be placed apart from the first. This spacing emphasises the way that the second orchestra several times echoes the first orchestra.

In structure this piece resembles the Elizabethan-age "fantasy." The theme is heard in its entirety three times during the course of the work, but the music grows from the theme's constituent motives or fragments, with variations upon them. A secondary melody, based on the original, is first heard on the solo viola about a third of the way into the Fantasia, and this theme forms the climax of the work about five minutes before the end.

The original 1567 theme

Tallis's original tune is in the Phrygian mode and was one of nine he contributed to the Psalter of 1567 for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. When Vaughan Williams edited the English Hymnal of 1906, he also included this melody (number 92). Tallis's original words to the hymn were:

"Why fum'th in fight the Gentiles spite, in fury raging stout?
Why tak'th in hand the people fond, vain things to bring about?
The Kings arise, the Lords devise, in counsels met thereto,
against the Lord with false accord, against His Christ they go.
—Psalm 2:1--2, Archbishop Parker's Psalter (1567)"

In popular culture

In 1997 it was the theme music to the concluding sketch of the last episode of series 3 of The Fast Show featuring recurring characters Ted and Ralph at the former's wife's grave.

In 2010 listeners of the UK classical music radio station Classic FM voted the piece into third place on the station's "Hall of Fame", an annual poll of the most popular classical music works.

This work has featured in a number of films. It was played in the 1988 film Remando al viento (Rowing with the Wind) starring Hugh Grant as Lord Byron, was prominently featured in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World with Russell Crowe, The Thief and the Cobbler (Recobbled Cut) and was referenced in the post-crucifixion music of John Debney's score to the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.

This piece was also featured in the novel Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James and was chosen by the author for the classical-music soundtrack for a planned film version of the series.

In August 2013, the piece was used in the final episode of the twentieth series of British motoring series Top Gear, in a segment celebrating the British motor industry.
The text above is offered by courtesy of Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Classical music piece performed by: Gardner Chamber Orchestra; Douglas Boyd
Licensed by: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Music license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Painting: "Architectural Fantasy: Ruins of a Circular Temple Seen through a Natural Arch" by Pierre-Adrien Pâris
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

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