Ralph Vaughan Williams Quotes

Photo of English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams Quotes

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) was both a composer and a musicologist, who collected English folk music and songs, which he used liberally in his own compositions and in the work he did with English Hymnal.
He wrote in most all genres of western music including symphonies, works for band, chamber music, songs, choral works and film scores. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Trinity College. He studied orchestration with Maurice Ravel who said that Vaughan Williams was the only one of his students that did not write music that was like his own.

One of Vaughan Williams lifelong friends from the Royal Conservatory of Music was the English composer Gustav Holst. Both composers spent time together going through their works in progress and gaining feedback from each other.  Though he was brought up in an upper class world, Vaughn Williams believed and worked for egalitarian ideals and was a hard working composer, conductor, violin and keyboard player throughout his lifetime.  He also enlisted in the army during the First World war, where artillery fire contributed to his deafness in later life.

Another Royal Conservatory of Music student friend was Leopold Stokowski, with him he studied organ under Sir Walter Parratt.  Stokowski performed most of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies as well as recording them.  

Though he wrote a good deal of church music, his second wife said he was “an atheist … [who] later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism.”  He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Image: Photo of English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams


“In the next world, I shan’t be doing music, with all the striving and disappointments.  I shall be being it.”


“The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation.”


“The duty of the words is to say just as much as the music has left unsaid and no more.”


“Art for art’s sake has never flourished in England. We are often called inartistic because our art is unconscious. Our drama and poetry, like our laws and our constitution, have evolved by accident.”


“Before going any further may we take it that the object of art is to obtain a partial revelation of that which is beyond human senses and human faculties – of that, in fact, which is spiritual.”


“I don’t know whether I like it, but it’s what I meant.”


“The audience is requested not to refrain from talking during the overture. Otherwise they will know all the tunes before the opera begins.”


“The attitude of foreign to English musicians is unsympathetic, self-opinionated and pedantic. They believe that their tradition is the only one (this is especially true of the Viennese) and that.”


“Film composing is a splendid discipline, and I recommend a course of it to all composition teachers whose pupils are apt to be dawdling in their ideas, or whose every bar is sacred and must not.”

– Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)

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Richard J. Chandler, BA, MA Bachelor of Arts-Music & Master of Arts-Psychology