Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Photo of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams was a twentieth century composer.

When and Where was he Born?

12th October 1872, The Vicarage, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England.

Family Background:

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the second of three children (two sons and a daughter) of Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams, a vicar and his wife Margaret Wedgwood, a relation of Josiah Wedgwood, the potter.


Field House School, Rottingdean, Charterhouse School. Royal College of Music, London under Charles Stanford. Trinity College, Cambridge.

Timeline of Ralph Vaughan Williams:

1875: Death of his father. His mother, brother and sister move back to the family house at Leith Hill Place near Dorking in Surrey.

1879: Vaughan-Williams learns to play the violin.

1890: He visits Munich and hears the music of Richard Wagner for the first time.

1892: He meets his fellow Composer Gustav Holst at the Royal College of Music and they become lifelong friends.

1894: Vaughan-Williams passes his Bachelor of Music examinations at the Royal College of Music in London.

1895: He studies history at Cambridge University and becomes organist at St. Barnabas’s Church in Lambeth, London.

1897: He marries Adeline Fisher on 9th October, at All Saint’s Church, Hove, Sussex.

1901: His first published composition “Linden Lea” is set to poetry by William Barnes.

1903: He begins his lifelong quest to collect English folksongs so they are not lost.

1904: He begins his work editing the English Hymnal hymn book. The Leith Hill Festival is founded by his sister.

1905: He becomes Director of the Leith Hill Festival.

1906: His interest in British folk music leads him to want to create a national musical form. This is reflected in the three “Norfolk Rhapsodies”.

1907: He composes “In the Fen Country” which attracts a great deal of attention.

1908: Vaughan Williams goes to Paris to continue his studies with the French composer Maurice Ravel. He begins working on “On Wenlock Edge” which has words by the Bromsgrove poet A. E. Housman.

1909: He writes “The Wasps”, music to accompany Aristophane’s drama. He produces “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”.

1910: He completes the “Sea Symphony” with words by Walt Whitman.(Symphony No1).

1911: He begins his Opera “Hugh the Drover”.

1914: He finishes his Second Symphony called the “London Symphony”. He enlists in the Army Field Medical Corps.

1916: He is sent to Ecoivres in France and then on to Salonika in Greece. His friend and musician George Butterworth is killed in action.

1917: Vaughan Williams is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery and sent back to France.

1918: He becomes Director of Music of the First Army British Expeditionary Force in France.

1919: After the end of the First World war he is appointed as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in London.

1920: He produces a revised version of the London Symphony.

Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall, London (copyright Anthony  Blagg)

1922: He finishes his Third Symphony “The Pastoral” and goes on a visit to America.

1923: The unaccompanied Mass in G Minor showed his love of English Tudor music.

1925: His opera “Hugh the Drover” is performed at the Royal College of Music by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

1928: His wife Adeline is now crippled with arthritis and the couple move to Dorking after his resignation from the Bach Choir.

1930: He completes “Job” – A Masque for Dancing.

1932: Vaughan Williams is elected President of The English Folk Dance and Song Society.

1933: First performance of his Piano Concerto.

1934: Death of his close friend Gustav Holst. Completion of his Piano Concerto.

1935: He completes Symphony Number 4. He is awarded the Order of Merit.

1939: At the outbreak of the Second World War he devotes himself to composing film music, writing and going on lecture tours.

1940: He composes his first film score for “The 49th Parallel”.

1943: Vaughan Williams finishes the Fifth Symphony which receives a very warm response when conducted by him at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

1944: He writes the Oboe Concerto.

1948: He completes the Sixth Symphony.

1949: He completes his opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

1951: Death of his first wife on 10th May.

1952: He meets Larry Adler and writes the “Romance for Harmonica” for him.

1953: In February he marries Ursula Wood and they honeymoon in Berlin where he studies with the composer Max Bruch. He composes the “Sinfonia Antartica”. (Symphony No 7).

1954: He goes on a lecture tour of the United States. His Tuba Concerto is performed in London.

1956: He finishes Symphony Number 8. “A Vision of Aeroplanes” is performed in London.

1958: Ralph Vaughan Williams finishes Symphony Number 9.

When and Where did he Die?

26th August 1958, London, England of a heart attack in his sleep at Hanover Terrace.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1934: “National Music”.
1935: “Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and other Papers.”

Major Works:

1907: “Toward the Unknown Region”.
1909: “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”. “Incidental Music to The Wasps”. “On Wenlock Edge”.
1910: Completes the “Sea Symphony”. (No1).
1914: “London Symphony”. (No 2).
1922: Third Symphony “The Pastoral”. “The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains”.
1923: “Old King Cole”.
1924: “Hugh the Drover”.
1930: “Job” A Masque for Dancing. “Benedicte”.
1932: Magnificat.
1934: Piano Concerto.
1936: “Five Tudor Portraits”. “Dona Nobis Pacem”.
1943: Fifth Symphony.
1944: Oboe Concerto.
1948: Sixth Symphony.
1951: “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.
1953: Seventh Symphony.
1949: “The Pilgrim’s Progress”
1956: Eighth Symphony.
1958: Ninth Symphony.


1. 9th October 1897 to Adeline Fisher, at All Saint’s Church, Hove, Sussex. (d. 10th May 1951).
2. February 1953 To Ursula Wood.

Site of Grave:

The Nave, Westminster Abbey, London, England. (His ashes were interred next to Henry Purcell).

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Royal Albert Hall.
Memorial Library, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road NW1 7AY.


Statue in Dorking.

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