It is no surprise that Shakespeare’s lyrics have been set to music by composers over the years.
Ralph Vaughan Williams made settings of “O Mistress Mine” (from Twelfth Night) and “Willow” (Othello) in 1890, when he was just 19, though the versions Wherwell Singers will perform were written in 1899.
Vaughan Williams’ mother was a direct descendant of Josiah Wedgewood and niece of Charles Darwin, and though his father died when he was just three, Ralph grew up in a privileged world.
He studied at the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford and later Hubert Parry, and read History and Music at Cambridge. With a keen interest in folk music, which was dying out at the turn of the century, he met Cecil Sharp and began to travel the countryside collecting and transcribing folk songs.
“Sweet Day“, the third of Vaughan Williams’ Elizabethan part-songs, is a setting of George Herbert’s poem ‘Virtue’ In this poem, endings that occur inevitably in nature are contrasted with the everlasting soul. Day falls into night, oses fade, Spring comes to an end, but the sweet and virtuous soul lives on.