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CMP Analysis/Planning Form

by Ashley Meyers

Title O How Amiable Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams

Publisher Oxford University Press Copyright Year 1940 Voicing SATB

Ralph Vaughan Williams
(Image found at

I. Analysis

Broad Description/Type:
“O How Amiable” is a 20th century anthem, which is a sacred choral work used for
liturgical purposes. It was meant to be sung at the dedication of churches or other festivals.

Background Information:

Composer Bio (250 words):
Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in 1872 in Gloucestershire, England (Ottaway and
Frogley). However, he considered himself a Londoner (Ottaway and Frogley). He is widely
considered to be one of the best English composers since Henry Purcell (“A Short Biography”).
Vaughan Williams came from a family of prestigious lawyers (Ottaway and Frogley). His
paternal grandfather, Sir Edward Vaughan Williams had been the first Judge of Common Pleas
and his maternal grandmother was a sister of Charles Darwin (Ottaway and Frogley). He was
encouraged as a boy to study music and even took lessons with one of his aunts (Ottaway and
Frogley). Before he had even reached university study, he had experience with piano, organ,
violin, and viola as well as a basic introduction to harmony. In college he attended Trinity
College, Cambridge as well as the Royal College of Music where he studied under Hubert Parry,
Charles Wood, and Charles Stanford (“A Short Biography,” “Vaughan Williams, Ralph”).
Additionally, in 1895 Vaughan Williams met Gustav Holst, who he later described as the person
who has had “the greatest influence on my music” (Connock). The two were to share a close
friendship until Holst’s death in 1934 (Connock).
Just before Vaughan Williams turned twenty-five, he married Adeline Fischer, who was a
skilled musician on the cello and piano in her own right (Connock). That same year (1897), he
decided to travel to Germany in order to study with Max Bruch (Kennedy) .
At the turn of the century, Vaughan Williams found success at the Leeds Festival (1907)
with the choral piece Toward the Unknown Region (1905), which was a setting of a text by Walt
Whitman (Kennedy). However, despite his prestigious university study and early acclaim, he still
felt his techniques were “amateurish” and not to his satisfaction (Kennedy. This led him to
continue his composition studies with Maurice Ravel in Paris (Kennedy). Though Ravel’s
influence can be seen within his work, Vaughan Williams came to realize that he could not
merely import foreign styles but rather needed to draw upon native sources in order to forge his
own path as a British composer (“Vaughan Williams, Ralph”). Perhaps his nationalism was
partially due to the fact that he lived through two World Wars, but he firmly believed that a
composer could not reach a global audience until he or she was able to connect with his or her
fellow citizens.
During WWI, Vaughan Williams served as a field ambulance medic (Connock). He was
deeply affected by the loss of his friend George Butterworth in the war. Butterworth was also a
composer (“A Short Biography”).
After the war ended, he was hired by the Royal Conservatory of Music (1919) where he
taught composition, conducted the Bach Choir (he also briefly conducted the Handel Choir), and
expanded the Leith Hill Festival of Music (Ottaway and Frogley). One of his hallmarks as a
composition teacher was to encourage students to find their own style and creative sensibility
(Ottaway and Frogley). He was active in promoting and teaching summer courses with the
English Folk Dance and Song Society as well (Ottaway and Frogley). In 1940, he composed the
music for a film score (Kennedy). In his later years he also finished his opera Pilgrim’s Progress,
wrote several more symphonies, completed his second string quartet, and wrote several choral
works, including Hodie (Kennedy).
In all, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, as well as several ballets, operas,
chamber music piece, and choral music for both secular and sacred contexts (“A Short
Biography”). However, some of his most well-known works today include The Lark Ascending,
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and Fantasia on “Greensleeves.” He is also generally
known as a avid collector of English folk music and writer of sacred anthems. Vaughan Williams
died in 1958 and his ashes were buried closed to Henry Purcell in Westminster Abbey (“A Short

Internet resources for composer information:

"A Short Biography." The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Connock, Stephen. "The Life of Ralph Vaughan Williams." The Ralph Vaughan Williams

Society. 2001. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Kennedy, Michael. "Vaughan Williams, Ralph." Oxford Music Online. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.


Ottaway, Hugh, and Alain Frogley. "Vaughan Williams, Ralph." Grove Music Online. Oxford

Music Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.


"Vaughan Williams, Ralph." The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford Music Online. Web. 16

Nov. 2015.


Information on Composition:
“O How Amiable” is a 20th century anthem composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Anthems are choral settings of religious or moral texts that come out of the English tradition.
Typically, anthems are used within the context of a church service, or liturgy. Anthems originated
around the 11th century, growing off of antiphons (short sentences sung before or after a psalm
or canticle). As the centuries passed they gradually became their own genre of choral music.
From the 20th century onward, anthems came to refer to sacred choral pieces for liturgical use
that specifically came out of the British tradition.
“O How Amiable” was written for the dedication of a church or other similar festivals
and sets texts from Psalm 84, 90, as well as Isaac Watts (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”). The
voicing is for an SATB choir and organ, which would fit the context of a church dedication well.
The vocal line starts with the women in unison and builds to two parts as the men are added in
measure 14. The voicing continues to flow between duets, four-parts, and unison throughout the
rest of the piece, which keeps the texture interesting. The last segment of the piece (from
measure 57-74) features an augmented rhythm, which serves as a natural ritardando. This
provides a broad, majestic conclusion to the anthem.
St. James Church at Abinger.
Vaughan Williams had originally written “O How Amiable” for the Abinger Pageant in 1934,
which was held at St. James Church. (Image found at:

The text comes from Psalms 84 and 90 as well a hymn by Isaac Watts. It reads:

O how amiable are thy dwellings: thou Lord of hosts!
My soul hath a desire and a longing
To enter into the courts of the Lord:
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

Yeah the sparrow hath found her a house
And the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
Even thy altars, I Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
They will be alway praising thee.

The glorious Majesty of the Lord our God be upon us:
Prosper thou the work of our hands upon us.
O prosper thou our handy-work,

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Recordings Available:

Mt. Olivet Choral Union conducted by Bob Swift:

The Choir of Somerville College, Oxford conducted by David Crown:

Westminster Choir conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt: (Also see below for CD

St. Thomas Episcopal Parish Choir (Coral Gables, Florida) conducted by Timothy Lester:

Elora Festival Singers conducted by Noel Edison:

Commercially Available Recordings:

“Mystical Songs: Choral Music of Vaughan Williams”
Recorded by the Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne
Conducted by Michael Jones
Published by ABC Classics
Catalogue No.: ABC4766906

“Favorite Hymns and Anthems”
Recorded by the Westminster Choir
Conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt
Published by Westminster Choir College
Catalogue No.: WCC1309

“Sinfonia Voci”
Concordia University Wind Symphony
Conducted by Richard Fischer with guest conductor David Holsinger, and
Kapelle conductor Kurt Amolsch
Published by Mark Records
Catalogue No.: 1870-MCD

Elements of Music:

Though part of the melody and text are based on a hymn, “O How Amiable” does not fit
a strophic, hymn-like form. In fact, it is quite difficult to tell what would constitute a “verse,”
which leads me to categorize it as through-composed (though there are recurring motives, whole
sections are not repeated in their entirety). It is interesting to note that the piece goes through
several modulations of key, which typically correspond to a new idea in the text and/or melody.
The changes in key are as follows (they are in major throughout):
E-flat: 1-17 (17 measures)
B-flat: 18-34 (16 measures)
D-flat: 35-44 (9 measures)
E-flat: 45-74 (29 measures)

In terms of melodic content, here is a rough outline of the form:
Organ intro (mm. 1-4)
A (mm. 5-14a)
A’ (mm. 14b-17)
B (mm. 18-23a)
C (mm. 23b-28)
B’ (mm. 29-31a)
C’ (mm. 31b-33)
Organ interlude (mm. 34-36)
D (mm. 37-44)
A’’ (mm. 45-53)
Organ interlude (mm. 54-56)
E (mm. 57-74)

Seeing as though the second outline seems rather complex and fragmented, I personally lean
towards the idea of breaking the piece into 4 larger (but unequal) sections based on keys. This
seems to give a better macro sense of the piece.

The piece is in 4/4 time throughout and proceeds at an Andante Moderato pace with a quarter-
note = 60 (so moderately slow). However, at measure 35 the tempo picks up to quarter-note =
100. This tempo is sustained till the end.

The rhythms are varied throughout, but here a few rhythmic patterns that tend of recur
throughout the piece;
● Dotted quarter going to an eighth. Also a quarter followed by a pair of eighth notes, another
quarter note, and another pair of eighth notes.
● The rhythm is augmented at the end of the piece (only half and whole notes). The first and last
notes of each phrase are whole notes, and notes in between are half notes.
● There are often a pair of eighth notes on the 2nd beat of the measure.
● The piece tends to move towards longer notes at the ends of phrases where the line “sits”

The melody is largely derived from the tune of Isaac Watts’ hymn “O God, Our Help in
Ages Past,” specifically the second line.
For example, the opening melodic phrase (mm. 5-9) as essentially a slightly altered
version of the second line of “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” This motif of the B-flat up to an E-
flat, then gradually descending is repeated in varied ways throughout the piece. For example, it
recurs in measures 10-14, 14-17, 45-48, 49-53, and 62-65. Indeed, the very words from the first
verse of “O God Our Help in Ages Past” appears at the very end of the piece. However, the
melody does not exactly follow the hymn melody (though there are hints at the hymn melody
such as the A-natural up in a B-flat see in measure 64-65 of “O How Amiable”). In the middle of
the piece, the idea of upward leaps is retained, but the interval is changed slightly (instead of
going up a perfect 4th, the melody jumps up a perfect 5th). This occurs in mm. 23-25, 26-28, and

Information about “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” comes from The Cambridge Companion to
Vaughan Williams edited by Alain Frogley and Aidan J. Thompson.

Since much of harmony between the voice parts consists of octaves, this lends a sense of
solidity to the piece. This is especially true is the last section of the piece (57-70) where singing
the rhythm is augmented, the harmony becomes more chordal, and the choir sings in unison. This
emphasizes the power of the text and the strength of God as one’s support amidst difficulty.
Earlier in the piece, there are moments of 4-part harmony as well as a few duets. Often,
the choir will split into 4-part harmony at the end of a phrase (e.g. mm. 23-28, 31-32, 41-44, 50-
53, 72-73). Splitting into 4-part harmony serves as an exclamation mark to the text, especially
when the words are repeated. Additionally, when these 4-part harmonies converge to a note in
unison at the end, this naturally sounds much louder (e.g. mm. 28, 33, 74).
Also, both the voice parts and the organ frequently contain passing tones.

Timbre of this piece is very light and almost angelic at the beginning. However, the
frequent octaves and convergences to unison ground the piece and build a sense of fortitude as it
progresses. This is especially evident in the rich texture from “O prosper thou our handy-work”
to the end. A transformation is seen the character of the organ as well. At the beginning, the
organ feature many passing tones, but the texture was not so dense as to make it seem “heavy.”
Rather, it was delicate and contemplative. The timbre of the organ became more rich and
shimmery as the choir increased their volume and excitement. This could provide an excellent
opportunity for the ensemble to talk about collaborating with the organ and may shape which
“colors of the voice” are used throughout the piece (for example, perhaps the piece starts out as a
pale blue, but gradually transforms into a deeper royal blue).

The texture is made up the organ and an SATB choir. Overall, the texture tends
homophonic (melody and accompaniment).
However, the voicing frequently shifts between unison, 2-part, and 4-part harmony,
which affects the texture. The piece starts with the women in unison. There is some brief overlap
and imitation as the men enter in measure 14, but by the second half of measure 15, the men and
women are singing in octaves. In measures 18-20a and 20b-23a there is a sort of statement and
response between the men and women. All voices re-enter in measure 23b and split into 4 parts
by measure 24. They continue in 4 parts until measure 28. In measures 29-31 there is a duet (in
octaves) between the sopranos and tenors before the altos and basses fill out the 4-part harmony
in measures 31-33. The voices again sing in octaves in measures 37-40. However, in measures
41-44 the men and women split into 4-parts. The voices converge back to unison from measure
45 till the end (technically this is in octaves, but that is merely to account for the natural range of
men’s and women’s voices).

Similar to how a building starts with a single brick and gradually builds to form a larger
structure, the enthusiasm and fortitude of the mood accumulate as the piece continues. The
opening section should begin with a sense of awe, joy, and longing. Adoration and praise are
good emotions to think of for the middle portion. The ending also expresses praise as well as
confidence and thanks for God’s promises.
Since this piece is specifically designed for the ceremony of a church dedication or other
festivals that is another important expressive element to remember. On the occasion of a church
dedication, what emotions would be felt? Or what would you want the crown to feel? Joy, pride,
satisfaction, amazement, appreciation?

Additional Considerations:

Heart: (Specific element(s) of music that stands out to create expression)

This piece is primarily an anthem of celebration and praise. Since it was meant to be
performed at the dedication of a church or other festivals, it begins with subdued formality and
gradually builds in excitement. Two expressive elements that are fundamental to this piece are
the transitions between harmony and unison in the choir parts as well as the interplay between
the organ and the choir.
One musical element to bear in mind is that the convergences to unison naturally sound
“louder” than when the choir is singing in parts. While it is important to keep the balance in mind
(so it does not sound like the choir is suddenly shouting at the audience), unisons can also be a
powerful tool for building energy and making the choir sound full.
Another thing to think about is how the organ and the choir interact. The choir must learn
to collaborate as a fellow artist with the organist. For this particular piece, I think the organ sets
both the volume and tone color for the choir. Therefore, the choir must be attentive to how the
organist is playing.

II. Primary Skill Outcome: This piece gives students opportunities to work on unified vowels
during unison sections, maintain balance throughout changing textures, collaborate with
other musicians (fellow singers and organist), and work on connected, flowing phrases

Goals continued:
● “O How Amiable” is good for learning about texture and how to navigate a score with changing
voicing (unison, to two parts, to four parts, etc.).
● This piece provides opportunities for improving unison singing tone, but also has duets and 4-
part singing. These all require listening and balance in different ways.
● The legato lines are ideal for helping students work on flowing, connected phrases. Also, the
English text makes it easier for most American students to understand what they are singing
about and internalize the text more quickly. However, the familiar vowels also provide an
opportunity to work on purification of vowels.
● The organ provides helpful support, but does not spoon-feed the choir their notes. This can help
the choir learn to sing more independently and work with various textures and instruments of
different timbres.

1. Make small motivic ideas (such as the ascending 4th pattern) into a warm-up before teaching the
2. Incorporate warm ups (such as “Ne, nay, nah, no, noo” on a descending 5th pattern) which focus
on pure vowels. Vowel unification will be a key element to work on when trying to achieve a
desirable sound while singing in unison. This exercise may be repeated with the choir split into
2-part and 4-parts to develop the choir’s ear for balance and blend.
3. Inform students of some of the hallmarks of music from the English tradition. For example,
singing with minimal vibrato.
4. When parts line up or end up in octaves, point this out to the choir so that they are able to listen
for the voice part that goes with their part.

1. For 1-3, these can be assessed quickly and informally by simply listening to the choir and asking
them to adjust as necessary.
2. To make sure students are singing accurately and expressively, they may be called upon to sing
their parts from memory in quartets (a rubric should also be used to score their performance).

III. Knowledge Outcome: familiarize students with the historical texts from which this piece
was composed. Vaughan Williams was one of the most influential English composer, so it is
important for students to be familiar with him. Additionally, students should become
familiar with the anthem as a genre of choral literature (ART.M.IV.HS.1 AND

1. When this piece is first introduced, the definition of anthems should be discussed. On future days
when students come into class, other anthems from various time periods could be playing. The
name and composer of the anthem that is played can be written on the board. Once the class
period has started, the class can take 5 minutes to discuss important musical and historical
features of each anthem. The students should write down a few features about each anthem.
2. The class should also know a bit about Vaughan William’s life. Perhaps there could be a
paragraph about Vaughan Williams on their seat everyday and they could read it either before
class or while the director was working with the other voice parts.
3. During the learning process, the class should have a continuing discussion about the text, where
it came from (Psalm 84, Psalm 90, and a hymn by Isaac Watts), and its significance.

1. For 1, the students can choose an anthem that they particularly liked (this may be one that was
played in class or one that they found on their own) and give a short (5 min) aural presentation
which includes major musical themes of the piece, information about the composer, and
historical context. Students may elect to record their presentation and send it to the teacher or
they may give their presentations live to the class.
2. For 2, the students could take a short quiz about Vaughan Williams’ life. Or they could write a
paragraph about him and bring it to class (perhaps this paragraph could be written in class
3. For 3, this can be informally assessed by periodically asking the class questions about the text
before this piece is rehearsed (e.g. Which Psalms did Vaughan Williams use in “O How
Amiable?” Which famous hymn composer did he borrow from? Someone tell me a bit about
what the text of this piece means?, etc.).

IV. Affective Outcome: Students will personally understand and experience the joy of the
context for which this piece was written -the dedication of a church (ART.M.II.HS.7 AND

1. Have each student bring something they have written, built, or crafted to class. This could also
potentially include achievements they are proud of, such as a medal from Science Olympiad or
the bib number from a race in which they ran their personal best. These items will serve as the
inspiration for the project. The students will have to choose a 2-4 line Psalm, Bible verse, or
other sacred text. Their task will be to write an 8-16 bar “Anthem” to be played in honor of what
they have built or achieved. The students must also include some kind of supporting chord
progression. They may be allowed some freedom with this, but their composition must include at
least one half cadence and must end on an authentic cadence (in general, they should try to stick
to I, IV, V, and vi. They should ask for guidance if they would like to go beyond that). The
objective of this assignment is not only to further familiarize students with the anthem genre, but
also to allow them to think about how it might feel to sing at the dedication of a church
-something you have worked hard to build.
2. In a more informal way, the class may talk about the text. Possible topics for discussion could
include: where did it come from? what does it mean? does it serve the purpose of the music well?
does the music match the text? why does it matter? and how would you read this if you were

1. This assignment will be graded using a rubric and will evaluate the following areas: correct
number of beats per measure, attention to cadences, logical chord progression, how well the
melody was fitted to the text (does it flow? Does the syllabic emphasis make sense?), and
whether the overall emotional effect fit with the text (Does this fit the occasion of the dedication?
Does the character of the composition mesh with what the text is trying to say?).
2. The students can be assessed through their contributions to the discussion (perhaps have a check
or minus system to make sure that everyone participates).

V. Selection: (Why did you choose this piece? Why does it matter? Why is it worth learning?
Why is it important?)

Part of the reason that I chose this piece is that it would be accessible to high school
students, yet still expose them to the work of a prolific composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. By
singing this piece, students are opened up to a host of information pertaining not only to Vaughan
Williams himself but also the rich tradition of English choral singing.
Additionally, in “O How Amiable” Vaughan Williams drew on a rich variety of texts
(Psalm 84, Psalm 90, and a hymn by Isaac Watts) and set them in an artful manner. This was a
large part of why I chose this piece. Many choral works for high school level students have either
beautiful melodic lines, but a text that does not really mean anything or a high-quality text that is
not set well. Perhaps more likely still is an insignificant text set in a poorly-crafted way. In my
selection of this anthem, it was crucial that it had both a meaningful text and a beautiful musical