Serenade to Music – by Ralph Vaughn Williams

This is my favorite choral piece at the moment: “Serenade to Music,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I sang it in a concert last Friday with the Central Oregon Mastersingers and The [brilliant] Sunriver Music Festival Orchestra.

It was one of my favorite performances of my life. I stood backstage listening to the second half of the program – Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Felix Mendelssohn – and I didn’t want it to end. I would have performed the entire concert again if everyone else had wanted to.

Here are the lyrics, which are adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;

Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive –
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Music! hark!

It is your music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it
How many things by season season’d are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awak’d. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches IB of sweet harmony.

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4 thoughts on “Serenade to Music – by Ralph Vaughn Williams

  1. Hey Ben — Terri and I were at the concert and we certainly agree with your assessment of the evening. Exquisite. I have a recording by the Corydon Singers and the English Chamber Orchestra of Serenade to Music. I’ve listened to it dozens of times (and I’m listening to it now) simply because I love the “sweet harmony” of the music of Vaughan Williams. I have never really studied, or was even that attentive to the lyrics. I didn’t realize how deeply moving they are. My appreciation for this serenade has increased exponentially. Vaughan Williams was a master at evoking the mood suggested by the lyrics. His “Five Mystical Songs” are as transcendent as the Serenade.

      1. Somehow it has been forgotten that there is a recording for which Vaughan Williams himself was present at rehearsal, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sung by Glyndeboune Chorus.and soloists. It was recorded in London in 1956 or 57.

        I was amember of Glyndebourne chorus at the time

  2. Dear Elvira,
    You will be pleased to know that the recording that you mention is available on YouTube, listed as ‘First Recording’
    Timeless beauty.
    Jack

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