Cool Music for a Warm Day: Sinfonia Antartica
English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a symphony inspired by the South Pole. This evening on Symphony @7, to help you cool down on the Summer Solstice, and to acknowledge the Antarctic Centennial Year, we’ll have the Sinfonia Antartica.
In 1911 and 1912 there was a race between British explorer Robert Scott and the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. When Scott reached the South Pole in January of 1912, he found that the Norwegian got there before him. Amundsen had beaten him by 35 days. Tragedy ensued when Scott and his four companions got lost and ran out of supplies amid very harsh weather and perished. Still, Scott became a national hero to the British for his brave attempt and stoic attitude when he realized all was lost.
Symphony No. 7, Sinfonia Antartica was based on Vaughan Williams music for the 1948 film “Scott of the Antarctic” about the English explorer’s doomed expedition. Using main themes from the film score, the symphony expresses human struggles against nature in its more extreme aspects, and each of the five movements is prefaced by a literary quotation.
The orchestral forces are very large and include organ, a wind-machine, and a soprano voice with women’s chorus, portraying antarctic blizzards. The symphony was first performed in January of 1953, when the composer was 80 years of age. Vaughan Williams was still investigating new sounds and techniques for his creative explorations well into his own old age In fact, he went on to write two more symphonies before his own passing in 1958.
Join me for this musical exploration of the South Pole on Symphony @ 7. In the meantime, here’s a sample: