I’ve recently been drawn repeatedly to The Lark Ascending, that ubiquitous and instantly recognisable piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
I was struck by the fact that I heard it being used recently at a friend’s wedding. It seemed to fit the mood perfectly. Yet it also fitted perfectly when it was used at my aunt’s funeral years ago. Is there something similar in the mood of a wedding and a funeral? It soothes people in a way that only a handful of exceptional orchestral pieces do, like perhaps Venus from THe Planets Suite, or Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.
I can’t explain on an analytical level why it works as well as it does, which I suppose is mostly due to my own lack of formal musical training. I know the main violin part is pentatonic (i.e. the black keys on a piano, basically, which is why it can sound like ersatz Chinese in parts) but that’s about it.
One observation I’d make is that the contrast between the solo violin sections interspersed with orchestral interjections, somehow makes it symbolic or resonant of a feeling of loneliness. The violin is self-evidently a lone voice (you could easily recognise the piece from a » Continue Reading.