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March 6, 1992

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Job, a masque for dancing
The impetus for the creation of Job: a masque for dancing stems from the 1927 centennial of the death of William Blake. Eminent Blake scholar-enthusiast, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, put together a scenario for a stage work based on the artist-poet's Illustrations of the Book of Job, convinced that Blake had in his designs unconsciously provided settings adaptable to stage settings and choreography. Vaughan Williams enthusiastically took on the challenge of providing music inspired by the dramatic possibilities of the Blake designs and the splendor of the 17th century rendering of the book of Job in the Authorized Version of the Bible. Designated a "masque" (a 16th or 17th century entertainment combining elements of poetry, song, instrumental music, dancing, acting, etc.) rather than a ballet, the work combines the art of composer, choreographer, artist, and poet. Other elements of times past include the use of Elizabethan dances -- pavane, galliard, minuet -- as well as traditional country dances.

So many delays occurred in the preparation of the first choreographed production of Job that the composer completed a full orchestral version for its first performance at the Norwich Festival in 1930. The first stage performance was given by the Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre, London, in 1931 conducted by Constant Lambert. It is the conductor's theatre orchestra version that we hear tonight scored for flutes, oboe, clarinets, saxophone, bassoon, horns, trumpets, trombone, strings, timpani, percussion, and harp.

Considered by many to be Vaughan Williams' finest orchestral work, Job is especially noted for its strong characterizations through music. God is portrayed with immense power and majesty with a firm, tonal touch. The music representing Satan is full of demonic energy with odd melodic leaps, the sudden juxtaposition of unrelated chords, and jarring textures. The slithering mocking sound of the saxophone depicts the three hypocritical comforters. Elihu's Dance of Youth and Beauty soars, leading us to celestial vision -- the use of the solo violin being reminiscent of the composer's work The Lark Ascending.

Instead of choreography, tonight's performance of this sacred, dramatic work is accompanied by the viewing of slide reproductions of Blake's watercolors and engravings. Through the visual and the aural we may discover anew the story of Job -- a story of man's spiritual growth through experience to union with God.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1992.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts