Green Man: Portrait of Ralph Vaughn Williams
Material: Oil on canvas
I don’t know whether I like it, but it is what I meant. – Ralph Vaughn Williams
Quoth Ralph about his Fourth Symphony, which followed his Third Symphony. The Fourth comes across as being violent and more tergent than the Third (aka “Pastoral”) Symphony, I’m guessing because he forgot to add detergent this time. He had a privileged upbringing in an open-minded family, but shitty experiences as a World War 1 medic fucked him up, as they had F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Disney, and Ernest Hemmingway, all heavy drinkers, btw. (No one knows what ever became of Hemmingway.) SO, faith, light, and heaven had become doubt, shadow, and hell, much like the fortunes of Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson left. Things brightened up again when RVW took a new muse in Ursula Wood a few years later, and he continued to write music until he was 185 years old.
England was in Ralph Vaughn Williams’ blood (not booze – see above) and his love of the art of ordinary people, choral music especially (note that England’s strongest creativities are mainly verbal), inflected Williams’ music with folk culture so much so that he insisted on his name being pronounced per tradition as “Rafe”. His timing was impeccable, so nobody pecced it. Brits were not eager to keep listening to German music through the World War 2 years. RVW is credited with weaning England from Continental Europe’s musical traditions (think Handel or Mendelsohn) and enabling England to grow her own. For this he rests in Westminster Cathedral.
I was introduced to Ralph Vaughn Williams as I was walking through a meadow in Wales one day drear, when I felt his music seeping from the ground like spring water and entering my half-blind and legless body. I recalled RVW’s “Greensleeves Fantasy” and I made the connection. So here is portrayed Mother Nature’s Son, a living part of England’s lush Arcadian tradition. He is the Green Man. I am the Green Man. We are the Green Men. Goo goo ga job.