Was 1910-19 the best decade for English music?
The early 20th century spawned some of Britain's finest choral and orchestral writing, by composers including Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Holst
Elgar: Violin Concerto (1910)
Commissioned by Fritz Kreisler, the quintessential Englishness of Elgar’s Concerto was summed up by his friend WH Reed, who compared its three movements to the Rivers Severn, Thames and Wye.
Yehudi Menuhin (violin); LSO/Edward Elgar (1932).
EMI 566 9792
Find out more about Elgar and his works here
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis (1910)
Premiered at the Three Choirs Festival, Vaughan Williams’s glorious combination of the 16th century with the contemporary instantly took British music in a unique new direction.
Find out more about Vaughan Williams and his works here
Elgar: Symphony No. 2 (1911)
With the exquisite Larghetto second movement funeral march at its heart, the inspirations for Elgar’s otherwise upbeat Second included a poem by Shelley and the composer’s visit to Tintagel.
Bridge: The Sea (1911)
Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911-12)
Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912)
In this, the more famous of his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra – the other is Summer Night on the River – Delius conjures up the evocative pastoralism that would become a hallmark of British music.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
Warner Classics 5675522
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (1914)
Composed initially for violin and piano – the familiar orchestral version came later – Vaughan Williams's seemingly innocent depiction of the songbird is in fact full of foreboding as the clouds of the First World War gather. A masterpiece.
Holst: The Planets (1914-8)
Just as VW hinted at the gloom of war in The Lark Ascending, Holst portrayed its violence with uncanny prescience in 1914’s ‘Mars’. The full orchestral suite that followed rightly remains as popular as ever.
Find out more about Holst and his works here
Bax: Tintagel (1917)
Bax reveals his mastery of orchestral scene painting. Equally captivating tone-poems from this era include his The Garden of Fand (1913) and November Woods (1917).
Elgar: Cello Concerto (1919)
In the aftermath of the First World War, Elgar reflects both his and the nation’s mood with a work of wistful contemplation. As exquisite as it is mournful, it would prove his last major composition.