Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Englishness and Vaughan William's Fantasia on a theme from Tallis(1910)

Fantasia on a theme from Tallis is a piece of orchestral music based on a choral arrangement by the 16th century composer of sacred music, Thomas Tallis.

It is sometimes said that this is an extraordinarilly English compositions.

I must admit that the first time I heard it, it did not strike me as especially English-sounding. It has a mystical quality. It would not be out of place as the theme tune for an Old Testament epic movie.

However, when one appreciates the religious character of much of English history, the mysical flavour of the music captures the essence of an historic Englishness. It is the Englishness of the Oxford movement, the Englishness of William Blake, the Englishness of medieval monasticism and the Englishness of the King James Bible.

People today may not associate Englishness with fervour in religion, but England has a history of passionate religious devotion. This is a side of England which is not always appreciated or understood.

Fantasia projects the image of the landscape of England, the white cliffs, the rolling hills, the gentle forests. All is cloaked in an air of mysticism. The English landscape becomes a land of promise, a western Canaan, a land of legend.

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