Despite having been composed in the years 1938-43 when Europe was ravaged by war, this work radiates peace and serenity. It marks the peak of the lyrical modalism of works such as the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), Flos Campi (1925), and Job (1931). Although it is not a programme symphony, it draws heavily on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress for inspiration, featuring several themes that were sketched for (and
eventually used in) Vaughan Williamsas 1951 opera. In addition, Bunyan's words 'He hath given me rest by his sorrow and life by his death' were originally inscribed over the third movement. This idea of strength drawn from religion must have been especially potent when Vaughan Williams conducted the premiere of the work at the Proms in
1943, during the dark days of the Second World War. The ending in particular has a sense of rising above all worldly concerns into a higher spiritual plane.
This edition contains a preface on the history of the work by Michael Kennedy. Orchestral parts are available on hire.
Vaughan Williams has come to be regarded as one of the finest British composers of the 20th century. He has a particularly wide-ranging catalogue of works, including choral works, symphonies, concerti, and opera. His searching and visionary imagination, combined with a flexibility in writing for all levels of music-making, has meant that his music is as popular today as it ever has been.