Ralph Vaughan Williams

Job, A Masque for Dancing, ballet

    Description by Robert Cummings

    Vaughan Williams wrote only one work that he called a ballet -- Old King Cole (1923) -- but turned out several masques, including Job, which is really a ballet. While it is not a repertory item with the world's ballet companies, it has received a fair measure of attention, especially in England.

    The work is cast in nine scenes, with an epilogue (the last scene). The scenario is by Geoffrey Keynes and Gwendolyn Raverat, after William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job. Oddly, Vaughan Williams' own synopsis, which was printed in the music score, differs slightly from the one issued by Keynes. The composer's splits the fifth scene in two, thus accounting for nine scenes, whereas Keynes' scenario uses eight scenes. The story centers on Satan's menacing of Job, eventually provoking him to curse God. In the end, it is Satan, however, who is defeated, and Job, now humbled and stronger, triumphant.

    The first scene, Introduction: "Pastoral Dance -- Satan's Appeal to God," features a gentle, serene opening, followed by the darker music of Satan. The next scene, "Satan's Triumphal Dance," begins menacingly and then presents a witty, diabolical dance, whose music augurs that in the colorful scherzo of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 9 (1958), both works featuring imaginative writing for the xylophone. "Minuet of Job's Sons and Their Wives" follows, an exotic and subdued piece, which exhibits deliciously atmospheric music, in large part from the oboe and winds.

    "Job's Dream -- Dance of Plague, Pestilence, Famine and Battle" begins in a subdued, but ominous mood, then powerfully fulfills that wary feeling. "Dance of the Messengers" follows, which is largely subdued and again features imaginative writing for the winds. The ensuing scene, "Dance of Job's Comforters -- Job's Curse -- A Vision of Satan," features, as one might expect, a colorful mixture of music. The opening is witty and highlights the saxophone (if used, as a bass clarinet may be substituted), whose diabolically slithering notes perfectly depict the Comforters, who are really "three wily hypocrites."

    The seventh scene, "Elihu's Dance of Youth and Beauty -- Pavane of the Sons of the Morning," begins with a lovely viola solo and later features an attractive dance of rather solemn character. The next scene, "Galliard of the Sons of Morning -- Altar Dance and Heavenly Pavane," is full of drama and color, from the hopeful opening to the more celestial and triumphant music thereafter. The last scene, "Epilogue," follows without break. It is serene and gently triumphant in mood, and recalls music from the opening scene: in both scenes Job sits contentedly with his wife, though he is noticeably older in the latter.

    Job has been viewed as auguring the Symphony No. 4 (1931-1934), a violent and dramatic work of profound character. While there are stylistic similarities between the two compositions, Job features less anxiety and a greater sense of repose and serenity.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Has thou considered my servant Job?
    2. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord
    3. The came a great wind and smote the four corners of the house
    4. In thoughts from the visions of the night... fear came upon me
    5. There came a messenger
    6. Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth
    7. Ye are old and I am very young
    8. All the Sons of God shouted for joy
    9. So the Lord blessed the latter en of Job more than his beginning

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2017
    Chandos
    CHSA 5180
    2013
    Albion
    ALBCD 015
    2011
    Membran
    233316
    2010
    Warner Classics
    2008
    Everest
    EVERCD 009
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099920663
    2007
    Apex
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution
    575314
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    575760
    2000
    EMI Music Distribution
    67220
    2000
    EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution
    73924
    1997
    Dutton Laboratories
    8016
    1997
    Naxos
    8 553955
    1997
    Teldec
    98463
    1997
    Teldec
    17047
    1994
    Everest
    9006
    1993
    EMI Music Distribution
    67538
    EMI Music Distribution
    9506
    Carlton
    91662
    EMI Music Distribution
    54421
    Intaglio
    741