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Professor of Music Dr. Stephen Town has authored a new book reviewing the choral-orchestral works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Photo by Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Professor of Music Dr. Stephen Town has authored a new book reviewing the choral-orchestral works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Photo by Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Jan. 23, 2020

Town authors book exploring choral-orchestral works of Ralph Vaughan Williams


The Choral-Orchestral Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams: Autographs, Context, Discourse,” a volume authored by Northwest Missouri State University Professor of Music Dr. Stephen Town, has been published by Lexington Books, an imprint of Lanham, Maryland-based Rowman and Littlefield.

The book highlights pieces from various stages in the composer’s life – ranging from before World War I, when Vaughan Williams was constructing his identity as an academic and musician, to works finished or revisited during the final years of the composer’s life, near the end of World War II and immediately before or after his second marriage in 1953.

“Stephen Town is the perfect storm of meticulous researcher, practicing and performing vocal musician, and compelling writer,” Dr. Tim Sharp, the executive director of the American Choral Directors Association, wrote in a review of the book. “‘The Choral-Orchestral Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams: Autographs, Context, Discourse,’ blends Town’s ability to capture the complete picture of what a performing musician wants to know about the history of these works, the theoretical underpinnings that matter to conductors and therefore listeners, and the unique insights of a performer passionate about music making while remaining objective about the performance material.”

The book is the culmination of nearly a decade of research and writing by Town, who also conducts Northwest’s Tower Choir.

“I have been researching and studying for many years what we consider the monumental works in music – that is, choral symphonies or choral-orchestral essays based on the symphonic form,” Town said. “The paradigm for these kinds of works was Beethoven’s ninth symphony, in which the composer took the symphonic structure of four movements and added voices to the last movement. Thereafter, many composers added choral movements to their symphonies, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, who wrote a choral symphony with every movement having singing in it.”

Town was inspired to begin the project after his selection in 1993 as a recipient of the prestigious Ralph Vaughan Williams Research Fellowship, which is awarded to a North American scholar by the Carthusian Trust of England. Town lived in Charterhouse, the school in Godalming, England, where Ralph Vaughan Williams attended as a boy. Town traveled daily to the British Museum in London where he accessed Williams’s manuscripts.  For many years, he returned almost annually to conduct archival research at the new British Library.

A major thrust of his book, Town said, is a comparison of the published and recorded musical works against their manuscripts and what the manuscripts reveal about the finished product.

“I was able to immerse myself in this voluminous collection of autograph manuscripts by Vaughan Williams,” Town said. “The works that I discuss were chosen because I found anomalies in the manuscripts that didn’t equate with the published versions or the recorded versions of these works.”

Town was a Visiting Research Fellow at Cambridge University during the 2014 spring semester, which enabled him to complete a draft of the book. After his residency there, he was elected a life member of Clare Hall Cambridge, a graduate college of the University.

He joined the Northwest faculty in 1986. He earned his doctorate in music at Indiana University, and he has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in music from the University of North Texas.


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704