Blog / Reflections on Gallipoli: The Lark Ascending

Reflections on Gallipoli: The Lark Ascending

Posted on 4 Mar 2015 by Neall Kriete

The Lark Ascending was sketched just before Vaughan Williams left for active service in the First World War. (By some accounts, he composed the piece as he watched troops embark for France.) The experience of serving seems only to have heightened his nostalgia for a simpler time. After his return to England in 1919, he fine-tuned his most popular work and eventually orchestrated it as a souvenir of a time gone by.

The ACO last performed this beautiful piece, which in 2014 topped Classic FM’s Hall of Fame, in 2002. Of the performance, Peter McCallum (SMH) said:

“[In] The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams … Tognetti’s reading of the solo part swooped and swerved in a romantic, even pained evocation of nature.”

Williams was inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name. Kerry Andrew, The Guardian, writes:

“It has heartsoaring moments, from the shimmering solo violin lines to the open chords moving in parallel which harbour just a hint of darkness, rainclouds in the distance. The bucolic violin trills and florid noodlings evoke a bird’s-eye swoop over long swaths of cornfields on a glorious English summer’s morn.

“At a fundamental level, all birds represent freedom in flight; in mythology and literature the skylark more specifically denotes daybreak and a sense of spiritual aspiration, embodied in the George Meredith poem that Vaughan Williams used as a starting point …  The dwindling, stratospheric heights that the solo violin reaches at the end of the 15-minute work speaks as much of our own transcendence as it does the eponymous bird’s.”

Classic FM writes:

“Listen out for the soaring violin melody ascends so high into the instrument’s upper register that, at times, it is barely audible; shimmering strings, meanwhile, provide much of the beautifully sensitive accompaniment, evoking glorious images of the rolling British countryside. Midway through The Lark Ascending, Vaughan Williams treats us to an orchestral section that seems to borrow from his love of folk songs; it’s not long, though, before the lark returns, with the melody entwining itself around the orchestra and then breaking free, rising to ever loftier heights.

“The Lark Ascending is notoriously difficult to play, but the best performances of it are seemingly effortless and free.”


Reflections on Gallipoli
14–27 March 2015

Richard Tognetti, large-scale theatre specialist, Nigel Jamieson, and one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, Neil Armfield join forces to present this heartfelt exploration of our ANZAC story through music, spoken text and visual imagery, where an Australian’s elegy for his friend brushes shoulders with the words of the father of modern Turkey.

BARTÓK String Quartet No.2: Allegro molto capriccioso
KELLY Elegy for strings ‘In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’
SARISÖZEN (arr. Meurant) Çanakkale Türküsü
VINE Soliloquy (world premiere)
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Ceddin Deden
ELGAR Sospiri, Op.70
KODALLI Adagio for String Orchestra
MEHVE? HANIM (arr. Meurant) Kaçsam Birakip Senden Uzak Yollara Gitsem
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Nihavend Longa
VINE Our Sons (world premiere)