Vaughan Williams on Melbourne Station 3LO

Our first child, a boy, was born in Bloomington on December 4, 1957. We named him after my brother Graeme and Jean’s father, William Eagle.

My primary financial support for travel abroad, the Hackett Studentship, was awarded in the expectation that recipients would return to Australia. This condition was never enforced, but Jean and I were happy to comply because we felt we would have a better life in Australia. I secured a position in a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization laboratory near Melbourne, and we sailed to Australia via England in the southern spring of 1958.

When we boarded the ship, the "Ivernia" in New York, Graeme was just three months old. We spent a couple of weeks in England, visiting friends from Tallahassee—travel was certainly pleasant and leisurely in those days!—then took the elegant old vessel "Stratheden" to Western Australia. By the time we had made family visits in WA, followed by the 2000-mile train trip to Melbourne, baby Graeme had spent half his life en route.

So we were back to the music programs of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, this time on Melbourne’s Station 3LO. In our house at 10 Windsor Avenue, Springvale, we enjoyed excellent reception. What a pleasure to turn on the radio and hear, not a tiresome racket, but…ah, Vaughan Williams. It was as if the world had gone sane all of a sudden.

I did not take to Vaughan Williams’(1872-1958) sound at first hearing. But after following several installments of a Sunday-morning series plodding methodically through that very English composer’s work, suddenly his Fifth Symphony, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, came into focus for me. From that moment I was a converted to this and other of his mysteriously profound works. I found it easy to believe that Vaughan Williams found a priceless vein of aesthetic insight in the British folk music he collected as a young man.

Later on I came to enjoy the composer’s earlier pieces such as the First Symphony—the "Sea Symphony"—one of several works of Vaughan Williams for voice and orchestra employing the words of the poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892). I am not very receptive to poetry—one of my blank spots, I’m afraid—and Whitman’s writings seem to me ungainly. Yet in the passage for high soprano backed by trumpets:

Flaunt out, O sea, your separate flags of nations!

Flaunt out visible as ever the various flags and ship-signals!

the words are brought to life by Vaughan Williams to conjure up a grand panorama of a flotilla preparing to set out on a glorious adventure, figuratively the ultimate voyage of the soul. Perhaps this illustrates a point made by Thomas Mann in his novel "Doctor Faustus," where the narrator says "…a poem should not be too good if it is to provide a good song. Music does much better when its task is to gild the mediocre…"

Station 3LO’s Vaughan Williams broadcasts included a segment of an orchestra rehearsal with conductor Sir Adrian Boult correcting the players with the over-precise enunciation of a tyrannical school master: "Cellos! If Vaughan Williams had wanted it dot-ted, he would have dot-ted it." Insert here an elaborate, self-pitying sigh, and "Let us con-tin-ue." Boult did more than anyone to bring Vaughan Williams to the attention of the public, but on this evidence at least, like many a high achiever from Wolfgang Amadè Mozart and Benjamin Britten on down, in person he was merely a twit.

(Mozart’s second name is usually written Amadeus, but according to musicologist Michael Steinberg, program annotator for the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras, he never used that name except in jest. Christened Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, he began to call himself Wolfgango Amadeo about 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777.)

Our second child, another boy, was born in Springvale on February 3, 1960. We named him after my old friend from University Hostel days, Colin Macliver, and my maternal grandfather Charles Gittins.

On to the next segment