Vaughan Williams and Ursula Wood


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Ursula Wood may not be a name you know but she's the woman behind the genius of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Married in 1953, Ursula was 41 and Ralph 80, and she encouraging him as a leading figure in the musical life of Britain. After his death in 1958 she devoted herself not just to preserving his memory but also to working tirelessly in musical causes that he had espoused, perhaps preventing her from achieving the degree of recognition she deserved as a writer and poet.

 

By 1937 Ursula had written a scenario for a masque, which she plucked up the courage to send to Vaughan Williams, in the hope that he might compose music for it. Eventually agreeing to meet her for lunch, Vaughan Williams, then aged 65, was expecting a matron in sensible shoes, but was agreeably surprised to meet an attractive, lively, energetic and impulsive young woman in her twenties. The meeting led eventually to their collaboration on words and music, and to a deepening relationship as Ursual became a loved and trusted friend not only of Ralph but also of his first wife Adeline.
As Adeline became increasingly crippled by arthritis, Ursula was more and more often Ralph's companion at musical functions. She also became Ralph's unofficial literary adviser and collaborator. Adeline died in May 1951, and Ralph asked Ursula to manage his domestic affairs for him. When, some two years later, in February 1953, Ralph and Ursula were married, it seemed the most right and natural fulfilment of their long and affectionate friendship.
Enjoy the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams in this beautiful recording from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and take a moment to think about the women who support and championed his work.
Find out about Debussy's turbulent love life in this article or discover more music by composers in love.