Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Grimley, Daniel M. “Music, Ice, and the ‘Geometry of Fear’: The Landscapes of Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antartica.” The Musical Quarterly 91 (Spring 2008): 116-50.

Ralph Vaughan William’s Seventh Symphony, Sinfonia Antartica, is a reworking of his score to the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, and this connection reveals the relationship between the complex national mythology of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910–1913 Antarctic Expedition and the diverse musical influences of Vaughan Williams’s late compositions. Sketchbooks suggest that Vaughan Williams began developing the score to Scott of the Antarctic before shooting on the film began, drawing on the popularity of the Scott Expedition during the Second World War and its strong association with English nationalism. Shortly after the film’s premiere, Vaughan Williams discussed reusing material from the score to create a symphony, which eventually premiered as Sinfonia Antartica in 1953. Sinfonia Antartica straddles the line between absolute and programmatic content, confounding some critics. Structurally, the five movements are framed in balanced symmetry centered around the third movement, “Landscapes.” Several cues from the film score are reworked into Sinfonia Antartica, giving their original narrative functions deeper spiritual purpose. The addition of the organ particularly works to elevate the Antarctic environment and the story of Scott’s expedition to metaphysical significance. The icy landscape draws people toward it but is ultimately desolate and empty, mirroring the existential crisis of faith in English art following World War II.

Works: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica (118-34)

Sources: Ralph Vaughan Williams: score to Scott of the Antarctic (118-34)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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