Vaughan Williams's “A London Symphony”: Music, the Metropolis, and the “Condition of England” 1900-1926


ACLS Fellowship Program




I use an investigation of Vaughan Williams's “A London Symphony”—its genesis, structure, performance and reception—to explore wide-ranging issues surrounding music in British culture on the eve of the First World War. A landmark both for its composer and British music, this ambitious work draws on diverse European sources, as well as indigenous folk and popular materials, in portraying the imperial metropolis, and was shaped by the disturbing vision of H.G. Wells's novel “Tono-Bungay”; such references focus crucial social issues in British music and culture and, more broadly, help illuminate the role of the city in musical modernism, interrelationships between the genres of symphony and novel, and artistic constructions of nationalism and imperialism.