Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | January 31, 2008

The Nature Mysticism of Bax, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bantock and Butterworth

Researching the magical nature of the English landscape has led me to a fascinating article on the influence of the landscape and pagan themes on British composers by violinist Sue Aston who has produced a number of CDs of her music including ‘Sacred Landscapes’. Read the full article and see details of her music here. Here is just a sample:

 

Recording my violin album ‘Sacred Landscapes’ took me on a journey that went far beyond my passion for the Landscape that inspired it. As a composer I have absorbed a great deal of inspiration from the natural landscape, particularly the isolated areas of Cornwall which are rich in legend and folklore.

My journey is also very much a spiritual one and I have felt compelled to find out whether any other composers had felt the same way. My research into this subject is startling, as it uncovers a wealth of well known composers who also had an affinity with the landscape and with nature based spirituality. This article focuses on Bax, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bantock and Butterworth, all composers who were heavily influenced by nature and mysticism.

Our quest begins towards the end of the 19th century, when there was a reaction in Britain against Victorian restraints and outmoded religious practices.

In parallel with the philosophies and activities taking place throughout the continent and Russia, visionary people were seeking a new kind of spirituality based on the old nature based belief systems.

When contemplating the ingredients that make up the essence of Paganism, the images that come to mind are being in tune with nature, the spirit of the wild landscape, and the powerful energies that permeate the ancient sacred sites. Such influences were found in the works of many British composers. Despite their more formal religious backgrounds, ranging from Catholicism to Hinduism, the common link between them all is the sacred aspect of being at one with the natural world.

Sue Aston 

Read the full article and see details of her music here.


Responses

  1. Hi Philip,
    Really interesting article. My husband Laurie once got a group of his students to listen to ‘The Lark Ascending’ with their eyes shut and then write down what images the music inspired. Practically all of them spoke of the British countryside, the wind and sea. I was fascinated by this. I am sure there is shared cultural stuff going on here, but I also wonder whether the land possesses its own music, something each of us is sensitive to on some level, but that composers who are open to this can translate and express something of its essence for us.
    ‘The Lark Ascending’ speaks to me of Cornwall, a place we both love very much(Interseting to see that he wrote it in the Cotswolds!). I must look into Sue Aston’s music and see if it conjures for me that wonderful place. Have you listened to her music and if so what does it speak of for you?

  2. What a fascinating article! Thanks for sharing that.

    (I find the timing particularly interesting as I am currently immersed in a project around representations of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian Gods in post-classical music… so anything to do with pagan tendencies in music catches my attention even more than normal!)

  3. Maria – I’ve heard snippets from her website and await her CD ‘Sacred Landscapes’ in the post!

  4. Fantastic, thanks for sharing that too! It is bound with the Bard work you gave, but is a work that all people with “sensitive” can do.
    Some young man from Brittany do now a work on the stars (that man is a VJing) … and found Holst’s music “par hasard” (he did not know about Holst)
    But why did some lanscape “provoque” this music to this particular musician, and another music to another musician?…
    Do you know that work from Holland about the trees for pupils in school? (http://www.elementree.nl/)

  5. That’s a lovely website Zil!
    I’ve been told that Paul Weston’s new book, Mysterium Artorius, deals with Elgar, Bax et al and the land…

  6. Nice to see mention of Mysterium Artorius. Yes, Elgar and Bax and Ralph Vaughan Williams as well. I am however Paul and not Andy Weston.

  7. Corrected Paul!

  8. You must read this masterpiece by Hilaire Belloc:
    http://www.bartleby.com/237/11.html
    This beautiful essay, written during the time of the mystical music movement, conjures up the very landscape and deep tradition of working the land.

    • Thank you Eric. Belloc lived in this landscape here in Sussex and I look forward to reading the essay.


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