Pastoralism, Loss, and Nostalgia: Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending as an Elegy for Environmental Disruption

Kirsten Barker
The idea that music embodies meaning is largely accepted and uncontroversial. However, the way in which this relationship is articulated is complicated and contributes to music's ability to project different meanings, especially according to time and place. Such is the case with the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams's romance for violin and orchestra, The Lark Ascending (1920). This work contains both musical and extra musical traits that can be interpreted as pastoral and nostalgic.
more » ... standing how these meanings interact through time provides the opportunity for reinterpretation of the work in the present through an environmentally-oriented framework. Previous research regarding The Lark Ascending has specifically focused on aspects such as the work in response to the First World War as well as potential symbolic relationships with George Meredith's eponymous 1881 poem. The present study establishes The Lark Ascending as a quintessential pastoral work by virtue of its musical content. By considering the circumstances of the work's creation as well as its subsequent reception, these pastoral traits are then reinterpreted as an expression of nostalgia. This understanding of the work's nostalgia underpins a new environmentally-oriented reading, one where a contemporary audience is asked to reflect on the emotional or existential distress caused by ecological loss and disruption, and the piece is heard as an elegy for environmental loss and impossible futures.
doi:10.26076/4e86-2be8 fatcat:ug6pg6in4zglrdi2dq3bch6jsm