Vaughan Williams did not have a large output for solo organ, and he is not known for his keyboard works in general. But he was certainly familiar with the organ from his many choral works (oratorios, motets, etc.) where he used it in a largely accompanimental role. These preludes belie his keyboard reputation: he demonstrates here his mastery of the organ, producing three worthwhile compositions that make the listener regret that he did not compose more for the instrument.
The first prelude, Bryn Calfaria, marked Maestoso, uses a melody by W. Owen (1814 - 1893). Vaughan Williams imparts a slightly flowery manner to the music in this piece, deftly shifting from the somber to the ornate, with brilliant runs up and down the keyboard. By contrast the second prelude, Rhosymedre, the most popular of the three, is a reserved work of great serenity and beauty. Marked Andantino, it is based upon the tune by J.D. Edwards (1805 - 1885).
The last of the three preludes, Hyfrydol (Moderato maestoso), probably the least complex in its expressive manner, has both a soothing and reverential tone. Its melody, by R.H. Prichard (1811 - 1887), is the best-known of the three and Vaughan Williams' treatment of it is imaginative and colorful. While the music in all three preludes certainly has a style of its own, uniquely recognizable as the work of Vaughan Williams, it also has strains of Bach's preludes. Rhosymedre, for example, recalls the serene mood of Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Other Bach works come to mind in listening to these preludes, including Sheep May Safely Graze. All three were transcribed for piano in 1939 by Leslie Russell, and the last two were given popular arrangements for orchestra by Arnold Foster, in 1938 and 1951, respectively.