Vaughan Williams’ preparation of Hymns Ancient and Modern

Vaughan Williams was commissioned to revise the hymn book of the Anglican Church: Hymns Ancient and Modern. This was amounted to a huge task, but beneficial to his compositional outlook. The study of folk music to ensure the “best” versions of tunes was stressed the importance of musical activity in all spheres of music. He later wrote:

I decided, if I was to do the book at all I must be thorough , adventurous, and honest … As regards honesty: the actual origin of the tune must be stated, and any alteration duly noted. But this does not mean that the original version must necessarily be adhered to. I always tried to find what I believed to be the best version … Cecil Sharp had just made his epoch-making discovery of the beautiful melody hidden in the countryside: why should we not enter into our inheritance in the church as well as the concert hall. (1)

The other impact of such a large study of melodies an immersion in compositional technique. He wrote:

I wondered then if I was wasting my time. The years were passing and I was adding nothing to the sum of my musical invention. But I know now that two years of close association with some of the best (as well as some of the worst) tunes in the world was a better musical education than any amount of sonatas and fugues. (2)

(1) Holmes, Paul (1997) Vaughan Williams. London: Omnibus Press, p.36.
(2) Ibid.