In one of his last utterances, shortly before his death, Vaughan Williams said: "Modernism and conservatism are irrelevant. What matters it to be true to oneself." Simon Heffer's accomplished 150page biography of Vaughan Williams ably proves the verity of the great composer's personal creed with distinctive prose that luckily also includes a skilled overview (and some cherished details) of his musical works.
Heffer secures the essential threads between VW's family (his father, at his son's birth, was the Vicar of Down Ampney and his mother was a Wedgewood, and neice of Charles Darwin) and his lifelong output of quintessentially English music. The author wisely allows this bucolic picture of gentle privilege to continuously and subtly inform the dialogue of Vaughan Williams' life and work, gradually creating a full look on firm ground of a thoroughly cosmopolitan composer.
The discussions of VW's compositions are exceptionally competent and always evocative. Heffer' reach is impressive - from VW's undramatic beginnings as a composer, his constant affection for and lavish attention to the English hymn tune, his musical study with Ravel and its effect on his work, through to the daring influence of blues and jazz found in his symphonies, notably the use of vibraphones that inform the beguiling Eighth.
This book is a great deal like VW's music itself - profound and gentle, inspiring and intimate. Recommended over other more lengthy biographies of VW, length not always equalling depth of treatment in these matters. In this important little book, the two aspects combine in perfect conformity to the living testament that is VW's music itself. This book is a full, revealing look at a composer who spent his creative life conjuring manifold beauty and nurturing his unique gifts with the uncommon genius of steady, humane purpose. The appendix of select discography with incisive commentary is also useful especially for those not that familiar with VW's music.