program notes by composition > T > Toccata Marziale

Toccata Marziale

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Toccata Marziale was specially composed to be played by massed bands in the arena at the 1924 Wembley Empire Exhibition. “Toccata” (to touch) implies keyboard music. This piece is, in effect, a prelude in martial mood. It is composed in highly contrapuntal vein, with folk-song and modal roots, vagaries of key, and strings of those academic sins - consecutive fifths. It is a strangely complex and slightly sinister work. It would seem to contain overtones of war.

Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an influential British composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. In 1914 at the age of 40, Ralph (pronounced “Rayf”) Vaughan Williams enlisted as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and had a gruelling time as a stretcher bearer before being commissioned as an artillery officer. Williams wrote that his aim in setting the songs was that they be “treated with love.” Never straying from his English roots, he sought to organically weave elements of his native music into all his compositions, rather than imitate it. One of the earliest researchers in ethnomusicology, he traveled the British countryside recording and transcribing folk music directly from its source.

Williams' music has been said to be characteristically English. It expresses a deep regard for and fascination with folk tunes, the variations upon which can convey the listener from the down-to-earth to the ethereal. Simultaneously the music shows patriotism toward England in the subtlest form, engendered by a feeling for ancient landscapes and a person's small yet not entirely insignificant place within them.

Last updated on May 4, 2015 by Palatine Concert Band