Composer Profile: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Ralph Vaughan Williams 1
Ralph Vaughan Williams in later life.

Unlike the musical wunderkinds Mozart and Mendelssohn, Ralph (‘Rafe’) Vaughan Williams was a slow and steady developer musically. The son of an Anglican vicar, Arthur, he was descended on his mother Margaret’s side from the manufacturing and philanthropic Wedgwood family. From the age of five he had piano lessons with his aunt Sophy Wedgwood, but preferred the violin, which he began to study a year later. Although his family doubted that he had the talent required to succeed as a professional composer and musician they were staunch in their support, enabling him to study at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge. He also spent several months in 1907-08 studying with Ravel in Paris. It’s fair to say that, regardless of their doubts, ultimately his family’s faith was not misplaced. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)”

Composer Profile: Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar aged about 60
The composer Edward Elgar, aged around 60

A Roman Catholic in fiercely Protestant England; the son of a tradesman pursuing upper-middle-class interests in a determinedly class-based society; a self-taught composer at a time when formal musical education was considered essential; and a composer in the Romantic and Nationalist traditions as the 20th century turned its musical ear towards Atonality, Minimalism, and the many and varied forms of ‘Popular’ music – Edward Elgar seems to have lived much of his life as an outsider.


Yet it was Elgar who, in spite of his relatively meagre output (around fifty works, including only two symphonies), brought English classical music back onto the world stage after some two hundred years spent languishing in the shadow of the great Continental composers. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Edward Elgar (1857-1934)”

Christmas Classics: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Marley was dead to begin with
‘Marley was dead, to begin with.’

‘Marley was dead, to begin with.’As opening lines go, this has to be one of my favourites. Last Christmas a thirteen-year-old I work with remarked that she didn’t understand why movie adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’ were considered appropriate fare for children, when the story is actually pretty creepy. I told her she was absolutely right: ‘A Christmas Carol’ is not a story for children. Continue reading “Christmas Classics: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol”

Author Profile: Jane Austen (1775-1817)

It would be inaccurate to call Jane Austen one of the greatest female novelists in the English language: she is, quite simply, one of the greatest novelists, male or female, in the history of English literature. Her work marks a period of transition between the highly-stylised novels of ‘sensibility’, which focussed on evoking an emotional response in the reader and had previously dominated the nascent world of the English novel, and the realism which would come to fruition in the work of writers like Dickens. Continue reading “Author Profile: Jane Austen (1775-1817)”

Author Profile: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Why read Dickens? Sure he was popular in his day – the most popular author of the Victorian era, it is often said – but that was well over a hundred years ago now. Why, in the 21st century, should we still care about what this moralising freelance reporter has to say? Continue reading “Author Profile: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)”

Treasure Trove: Watership Down

If I’ve given the impression that The Culture Project is some kind of self-imposed curriculum in which I’ve driven myself to slave over dry, boring material, then the Treasure Trove is my effort to correct that idea. The Culture Project isn’t a curriculum, it’s an exploration of that foreign country which we call the past and the continuation of those traditions in the present day through the lens of art, Continue reading “Treasure Trove: Watership Down”

Poet Profile: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowst the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of,
laced with fire of stress…

With a mercy that outrides
The all of water, an ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;
A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,
The-last-breath penitent spirits – the uttermost mark
Our passion-plunged giant risen,
The Christ of the Father compassionate,
Fetched in the storm of his strides…

(Excerpt from Hopkins, ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’)

Continue reading “Poet Profile: Gerard Manley Hopkins”

English Literature in 10 Classic Reads

The French may have a reputation for making the best wine. The Italians and the Dutch may have been renowned for centuries as the world’s finest artists. Germany may have produced some of history’s greatest composers. But when it comes to words, no-one does it quite like the English. Continue reading “English Literature in 10 Classic Reads”

What is ‘The Culture Project’?

What is culture? It’s a word that comes loaded with many different meanings. Yoghurt, sauerkraut, wine and cheese are all cultured foods, produced by introducing bacteria, fungus or yeast into a particular food in a particular way. To speak of a person’s culture is to speak of their heritage: the food, clothing, art, architecture, dance, rituals and so forth that form their past and inform their present. Continue reading “What is ‘The Culture Project’?”