The Passions of Vaughan Williams

2008   BBC Four

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The music of Ralph Vaughan Williams ranges far beyond the folksy and the pastoral.  The hidden story of his long affair with Ursula Wood reveals a composer of enormous energy and passion, and opens the way to a reappraisal of his music.

This psychological profile of Vaughan Williams contains specially-filmed performances of his work by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by the late Richard Hickox, with Rachel Roberts (viola) and Alistair Mackie (trumpet).  It also features Schola Cantorum of Oxford, conducted by James Burton, and Ruth Peel (mezzo soprano) and David Owen Norris (pianoforte).  Contributors include: Michael Kennedy, Anthony Payne, Christopher Finzi, Simona Pakenham, Hugh Cobbe, Robert Tear, Miles Vaughan Williams, Nicola LeFanu, Byron Adams and Jeremy Dale Roberts.  The film is a co-production between Crux Productions and Firefly (now Dragonfly Productions), 1 x 90’.

Musical extracts from: Symphonies 8 & 4 / Rondel / Down Ampney / A Sea Symphony / Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis / A London Symphony / Dona Nobis Pacem / A Pastoral Symphony / Symphonies 9 & 6 / Three Shakespeare Songs / Mr Isaac’s Maggot  / Flos Campi / Partita / Job / Serenade to Music / Hugh the Drover / Symphony 5 / Dives and Lazarus / Silence & Music / Tired


Photography Dirk Nel, Jonathan Partridge
Sound Paul Paragon, Bob Withey, Patrick Boland
Dubbing Mixer Rowan Jennings
Production Manager Mandy Skelton
Thanks to Stephen Connock
Assistant Producer Caroline Page
Executive Producer Magnus Temple
Film Editor Samuel Santana
Written, narrated & directed by John Bridcut

The Crux DVD of this film is available through the Crux online shop, or from Gonzo Multimedia


'Three excellent films – we’re watching as well as listening – on British composers by the documentary film-maker John Bridcut, made about a decade ago, have been issued on DVD: Elgar, The Man Behind the MaskThe Pleasures of Delius; and The Passions of Vaughan Williams.

'Bridcut, who made last year’s BBC Four documentary Jonas Kaufmann: Tenor for the Ages, has a talent for telling personal stories: Elgar’s love of the woman he called “Windflower” and his insistence on having a “death bed” photo while he was in fact still alive to mastermind it; Delius’s strange marriage and taste for all things “exotic”, with all that the word implies; Vaughan Williams and the complexities of falling madly in love with Ursula, nearly 40 years younger and equally, if not more, smitten.

'Yet Bridcut’s primary gift is to bring the music of these composers alive, weaving archive footage with specially filmed performance and deft contributions from a handful of musicians well able to knock down all the myths and prejudices. These commentators are passionate as well as scholarly, among them the composer and Elgar authority Anthony Payne, the conductor Mark Elder, who puts as powerful a case for Delius as you’ll find, as well as the late Michael Kennedy and Richard Hickox and, from the archive,Thomas Beecham. Ursula Vaughan Williams, shortly before her death aged 96 in 2007 after half a century of widowhood, recalls the taxi ride in which RVW first kissed her, in 1938, as if it were yesterday. These invaluable films make you rethink the music. They are, too, engrossing to watch.'

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

'Take that title seriously.  John Bridcut’s sizzling documentary reveals Ralph the impulsive heartbreaker… Here, his life story is a thrilling drama with a heart-pounding soundtrack: the music and gossip balance and illuminate each other perfectly as we meet the performers, composers, friends and lovers he left marvelling in his wake.’

Radio Times

‘Reading about these things would have been a less enchanting experience than watching this film about them. The crucial difference was the stunning use made of Vaughan Williams's music.  Contributors were filmed listening to it, caught in its spell.  You came away feeling you not only understood the composer better, but also his music.  Lyrical, erotic, and beautifully photographed, this was television raised to the level of an art form.’

Nigel Farndale, Sunday Telegraph

‘The programme was crammed with memories of people who had known him and loved him, including the mistress, who became his wife and outlived him by almost half a century. Best of all there was stacks of music. Too often arts programmes eschew the art itself, on the grounds that viewers will be bored. But this was thrilling to hear and entirely complemented the narrative. This is the kind of experience we can only get from television, blending words, images and sound in a way no other medium can. Thank heavens some people — in this case, John Bridcut — are still making such programmes. He deserves thanks and very hearty congratulations.’

Simon Hoggart, The Spectator

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