For Valentine’s Day, a day of romance, a look at one composer’s wide interpretation of what a “Romance” should sound like: Ralph Vaughan Williams covered the high, (very) low, familiar, and off the beaten path in four works with that name or description.
The first, and best known of them is the work known as The Lark Ascending – but its full title adds “Romance for Violin and Orchestra”. The solo line floats above the orchestral accompaniment like a bird over the English countryside.
Vaughan Williams’ Romance for Viola and Piano was only discovered among his works after his death – it shows that there’s room for romance even for the much-maligned viola… But the two remaining works are for instruments that get even less respect (or less frequent opportunities to shine in front of an orchestra) – the harmonica, and the tuba. The 1951 Romance in D-flat for Harmonica and Orchestra was written for virtuoso Larry Adler, and it remains one of the few large-scale works in the repertoire. A few years later, in 1954, and a few octaves lower, the slow movement of the Tuba Concerto in F Minor is labelled “Romanza” (as he also called a movement in his fifth symphony.) Proving that for Vaughan Williams, every instrument deserves a little romance.