Vaughn Williams knew something about the early morning by the time he composed “The Lark Ascending,” and for me it is nearly impossible to hear this piece without imagining myself at some observation point in the early morning as the day begins. The following posting by Barbara Heninger briefly describes the orchestral version:
The work opens with a calm set of sustained chords from the strings and winds. The violin enters as the lark, with a series of ascending, repeated intervals and nimble, then elongated arpeggios. These rise into the first theme, and the orchestra quietly enters to accompany the solo in the development of this somewhat introspective, folk-like motif. The solo cadenza is reprised, then the woodwinds, led by flute and clarinet, announce the second theme, a folk dance.
Williams was also apparently inspired by a poem:
In The Lark Ascending, Vaughan Williams found inspiration not only in English folk themes but in a poem by the English poet George Meredith (1828-1909). The composer included this portion of Meredith’s poem on the flyleaf of the published work:
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.
Emerson wrote what is probably one of the finest descriptions of an observed sunrise experience:
I see the spectacle of morning from the hilltop over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of cloud float like fishes in the sea of crimson light. From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations; the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Looking ahead to warmer temperatures and mornings in observation of the dawn.