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World Premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams's

'A Cambridge Mass'


On Thursday 3 March 7.30pm we held an exclusive world premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams's 'A Cambridge Mass' here at Fairfield.


To read The Daily Telegraph's review of this historic concert, please Click Here.  To find out more about the Concert, please scroll down this page...

An early unperformed work


The conductor Alan Tongue has unearthed an unpublished and never performed work by the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams from his mid-twenties, his exercise for the Cambridge Doctor of Music degree. Submitted in 1899 this is a four movement mass for soloists, double chorus and orchestra. Written after periods of study at the Royal College of Music (1980-3), Cambridge University (1892-5), the Royal College of Music again (1895-6) and with Max Bruch in Berlin (1897), the piece gives one the impression that the young composer is raring to get going at musical composition on a large scale. The work has already been described by the Vaughan Williams expert Michael Kennedy as ‘really amazingly good’. The piece lasts about 45 minutes and is to be premiered at Fairfield Halls on Thursday 3 March 2011.


To hear an excerpt of 'A Cambridge Mass' please click here.


Accompanying the manuscript is a statement from Vaughan Williams, dated 16 October 1899 from 5 Cowley Street, Westminster, London, S.W.:



I, Ralph Vaughan Williams, hereby declare that this
composition is entirely my own unaided work, and that
it has not been submitted to any other person for advice,
assistance, or revision. Ralph Vaughan Williams of
Trinity College in the presence of Nicholas Comyn Gatty
of Downing College, 6 Chelsea Gardens London S.W

Vaughan Williams at Cambridge


Vaughan Williams came up to Cambridge in the autumn of 1892. He was an undergraduate at Trinity College, where the Organist was at the time Charles Stanford, who was also Professor of Music. During 1984 Stanford commented that ‘I heard yesterday a Serenade by Vaughan Williams, a most poetical and remarkable piece of work’. Vaughan Williams gained his Mus. Bac. in 1894 and B.A. in History in 1895. He had joined the CUMS Orchestra as timpanist, and in January 1895 became Honorary Secretary. His supervisor at Trinity was Dr Alan Gray, who himself conducted Bach Cantatas in the college chapel and gave organ recitals, taking over from Stanford as chapel organist. Vaughan Williams took part in the chamber music concerts run by the Cambridge University Music Club: a concert on 23 November 1893 includes his ‘Music when soft voices die’ on 10 February 1984 he is singing in a fourteen-voice choir for the Marenzio madrigal ‘Lady, see me on every side’, on 28 April 1894 he is piano soloist  in Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E and on 3 November 1894 there is a performance of his own ‘The Virgin’s Cradle Song’, sung by Mr Higley accompanied by the composer.


Charles Wood, who coached him for the Mus. B. examination, confessed he had no hope for VW as a composer, but ‘he gave an impression of latent power and a capable and original personality. Even in those days he was evidently Somebody.’ (unpublished letter to Mrs Vaughan Williams, 1953).


Although he submitted the mass for Mus. Doc in 1899 he did not take the degree until 23 May 1901. He was always proud to be referred to as Dr Vaughan Williams. In later years he came back to CUMS as conductor of his own works: in 1908 for 'Toward the Unknown Region', in 1911 for 'A Sea Symphony', and in 1928 for 'The Wasps Suite'.


Vaughan Williams was required to follow these instructions in writing the Mass:


That the Exercise be a composition on a sacred of secular subject, written for the occasion; that it should occupy not less than forty nor more than sixty minutes in performance, and fulfil the following conditions:


  • That it comprise some portion for one or more solo voices, and some considerable portion for a chorus of eight real vocal parts.
  • That it comprise some specimens of Canon and of Fugue.
  • That it comprise an instrumental Overture, or an Interlude, in the form of the first movement of a Symphony or a Sonata.
  • That the whole (except some single piece be for Voices alone) have an accompaniment for a full Band.

    Vaughan Williams Writes……


    ‘In 1892 I went to Cambridge where I had lessons from Charles Wood in preparation for the Muc. Bac. degree. Charles Wood was the finest technical instructor I have ever known. I do not say necessarily the greatest teacher. I do not think he had the gift of inspiring enthusiasm or of leading to the higher planes of musical thought. But for the craft of composition he was unrivalled, and he managed to teach me enough to pull me through my Mus. Bac. While I was at Cambridge I conducted a small choral society, which met on Sundays to sing Schubert’s Masses. After Cambridge I went back to the RCM. Parry was by this time Director, so I went for lessons to Stanford. Stanford was a great teacher, but I believe I was unteachable. With Stanford I always felt I was in the presence of a lovable, powerful, and enthralling mind. In 1897 I decided to have a few months’ study and experience abroad. I only know that I worked hard and that Max Bruch encouraged me, and I had never had much encouragement before. When I came back to London I settled down to try and learn how to compose, not by studying but by doing.’

    (From ‘National Music and Other Essays’, OUP (1968)


    The work, under its new title, A Cambridge Mass, (there was no generic title originally) is to be published later this autumn by Stainer & Bell. www.stainer.co.uk



    The Discovery

    Conductor Alan Tongue Writes……


    Vaughan Williams’s Mass is held in the Manuscripts Room at the Cambridge University Library. The manuscript is on two sizes of paper: 28 stave on 16x11 inches for the Credo, Sanctus, Hosanna and Benedictus and 22 stave on 14 x 10 inches for the Offertorium. I first came across the score in 2007 in the Exhibition Centre in the library, where a page was on display in the exhibition ‘Keeping the Score: Music in the Library’, curated by the Music Librarian by the Music Librarian Richard Andrews. The catalogue read: ‘Vaughan Williams is one of a relatively small number of composers to have gained a doctoral degree in music by study, rather than being awarded an honorary doctorate later in life. The portfolio of compositions (the equivalent of dissertation) he submitted, which was required to be deposited in the University Library, comprised movements of a mass for chorus and orchestra. They have never been published, and probably never performed.’ There was nothing academic about the notes on display, I thought they were fairly leaping off the page and demanding to be performed. After the exhibition closed I duly visited the Manuscripts Room and requisitioned the Mass. I sat enthralled for some time, turning over the manuscript pages in the quiet atmosphere and trying to imagine the sounds. It seemed to me that here was a substantial work, constructed on characterful themes and with rich counterpoint. At a dinner in London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Elgar’s birth I mentioned this to Michael Kennedy. He told me that he was aware of the work but had never seen the score. I asked how I could obtain permission to create a set of parts and perform the work. ‘You write to me’ he said. The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust gave me permission to start work. Before long I had two CD-ROMs of the 155 page work from the library, and using the Sibelius music programme I painstakingly transcribed the work: it soon became clear that no performance had ever taken place as there were too many uncorrected mistakes.



    Thursday 3 March 2011 7.30pm

    Fairfield Halls, Croydon


    The Bach Choir

    The New Queen's Hall Orchestra 


    Alan Tongue                                   Conductor

    Olivia Robinson                             Soprano

    Rebecca Lodge                            Alto

    Christopher Bowen                      Tenor

    Edward Price                               Baritone


    Programme to include:


    PARRY                                         Blest Pair of Sirens
    ELGAR                                        Enigma Variations   

    VAUGHAN WILLAIMS              A Cambridge Mass

    For further information and ticket enquiries on the forthcoming world premiere of this historic concert , please click the links below:

    Alan Tongue Official Website

    Click Here To Book

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