Vaughan Williams: In the Fen Country

SKU MM-0028
Weight 3.00 LBS
Difficulty Intermediate
Instrumentation 3Fl, 2Ob, CA, 2Cl, BCl, 2Bsn, 4Hn, 2Tpt, 3Tbn, Tba, Timp, Strings
Duration 14-17 minutes
Set of Parts Includes Strings count
Extra Strings Available on request
Score Type Required

Described by Vaughan Williams as a "symphonic impression", it received its premiere under the conductor Thomas Beecham on 22 February 1909. The piece is meant to evoke feelings of traversing East Anglia's often bleak Fen landscape, illustrated by the solo opening melody, then wide open spaces as portrayed by sweeping string orchestral textures, with a melodic language strongly reminiscent of English folksong, and a harmonic language closely aligned with that of Frederick Delius in his idyllic idiom.

The Fens are a bleak, desolate, and relentlessly flat marshland found in East Anglia on the east coast of England. They resemble a slice of the Netherlands, transported from the other side of the North Sea. Their austere mystery inspired Graham Swift in his 1983 novel, Waterland, to ask, “what are the Fens, which so imitate in their levelness the natural disposition of water, but a landscape which, of all landscapes, most approximates to Nothing?” Alluding to the oppressive, stale air which rises from this swamp land, Shakespeare’s King Lear, in cursing his daughter, exclaims, “Infect her beauty, You fen-sucked fogs, drawn by the powerful sun, To fall and blister!”

This is the landscape which inspired one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ earliest works, the 1904 orchestral tone poem, In the Fen Country. This music, which the composer described as a “symphonic impression,” is filled with solitary, lamenting voices. Subtle shifts of light and color play against the expansive horizon. Hazy allusions to English folk songs emerge and dissipate. There are moments of celestial beauty. For example, listen for the incredible harmonic progression in the final bars, where the shimmering strings float ever higher while the lower voices descend. Yet, there is also something persistently unsettling about this music—an underlying restlessness, quiet anxiety, deep longing, and sadness. The piece begins with the plaintive, pastoral voice of the English horn, and drifts off into silence with a solitary viola. In the end, In the Fen Country feels ephemeral, like a dream.

3Fl, 2Ob, CA, 2Cl, BCl, 2Bsn, 4Hn, 2Tpt, 3Tbn, Tba, Timp, Strings
14-17 minutes
Set of Parts:
Includes Strings count
Extra Strings:
Available on request