When to play

March 1, 2007 at 03:33 AM · So I'm pretty interested in learning "The Lark Ascending" and I was wondering what stuff you'd play before playing it, and what skills are needed to play it well.

Replies (32)

March 1, 2007 at 04:35 AM · Greetings ,

how about `Birth of a lark,` and `Ethel the Lark takes flying lessons.`?;)



March 1, 2007 at 05:49 AM · Hahaha, Buri!

I played this piece in conjuction with the Barber concerto and Beethoven Sonata No. 8. It requires a very controlled, smooth bow arm, quick fingers and good sense of rhythm and control. You want to make the lark fly, not die. I believe the nicknames we gave it when I was first learning it was "lark descending" and "turkey ascending".

It's an amazing piece! I love it to pieces. :)

March 5, 2007 at 06:26 PM · Schindlers List (all movements but especially 1st. it requires many clean, open strings like Lark Ascending), Meditation (by Massenet from Thais--get it to perfection), and... scales for intonation :P vaughan williams demands it.

best wishes,


March 5, 2007 at 07:34 PM · Beethoven Romance in F or Dvorak Romance (seems like all these Romances/lyrical pieces require you to develop wonderful bow control and gorgeous bow changes to make them come off well).

Kreutzer exercises 15-22 deal with trills, and that can help strengthen your trill ability and impulse vibrato which is key to pulling this piece off well IMHO.

Anything you can do to strengthen your fourth finger, do it. IMHO, the piece flies more naturally when you rely on your fourth finger stretches instead of shifting all over the place to avoid it.

Nigun might be a good piece because it requires some large stretching in double stops, some runs, some work with octaves, fifths, fourths and sixths. I ramble on. Here are the items of most concern I notice in playing The Lark

1. Bow Control--smooth bow changes and fast fingers

2. Counted trills (they're written out, so you can't just trill--they must be exact and within rhythm)

3. Fifths

4. Strong fourth finger

5. Octaves you have to NAIL--if you miss them, it's tragic (high point in the piece)

6. Strong shifting facility (I agree with Jen--Thais is a good piece to help with shifting and intonation issues--and yes, Vaughn Williams demands perfect intonation--unless you want a drunk sounding bird).

March 6, 2007 at 04:01 AM · Also be sure to read the poem that inspired Vaughan Williams when writing it, since it will help suggest interpretive ideas. This is not a piece you can simply develop the technique and play straight through; it's really a tone poem, and you have to structure your interpretation to fit the many moods of the piece.

[added on Edit] Oh, what the heck, I'll type in the portion of the poem that's inscribed in the score (it's from a poem by George Meredith):

He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound,

Of many links without a break,

In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake . . .

For singing till his heaven fills,

'Tis love of earth that he instills,

And ever winging up and up,

Our valley is his golden cup.

And he the wine which overflows

To lift us with him as he goes . . .

Till lost on his aerial rings

In light, and then the fancy sings.

For the ornithologically inclined, I think the poem is about the English skylark, which we don't have in the US. But a bird that does the same sort of thing in the US in its courtship display (which I've seen and is quite extraordinary) is the American woodcock, albeit it does it at inconvenient times of the year (when it's cold) and day (early morning, or almost at dark). It circles higher and higher while singing continuously and then plunges straight down to the ground (Vaughan Williams didn't cover that part). Just in case you need some avian inspiration.

March 6, 2007 at 04:55 AM · Read the whole thing!!! Not just the excerpt in the score! It's beautiful. :)

March 7, 2007 at 12:09 AM ·

March 7, 2007 at 03:02 AM · I've never heard this piece. Everyone always talks about it... I think somewhere I have a Hahn recording with this work, but I never opened it. Who else recorded it?

March 7, 2007 at 03:22 AM · Hugh Bean, Sir Adrian Boult, New Philharmonia Orchestra.

March 7, 2007 at 06:13 AM · Hugh Bean and Gwen Hoebig are the two definitive recordings for me! Another good one is Christopher Warren Green with the London Chamber Orchestra.

March 7, 2007 at 06:18 AM · Greetings,

Hugh used to do weird fingerings in that piece just to freak out his colleagues. had the talent to get away with it. My teacher at College told me about him finishing one run with a series of highly visible but otherwise unnoteceable third fingers...



March 7, 2007 at 03:53 PM · For my part, Iona Brown with Sir Neville Mariner, St. Martin in the Fields recording is ICONIC. Though, I also like Hugh Bean. There is a Northern English Orchestra (I can't remember the name) recording with an unnamed artist which I think is my former teacher Geoffrey Trabichoff. I know he's got a recording floating around out there somewhere and I know he was the concertmaster of the Scottish BBC Orchestra for a while. I'm not SURE, but I think it's Geoffrey on that Northern English Symphony recording. Janine Jansen has included it on her most recent release. You can also see her perform it on Youtube.

March 7, 2007 at 07:33 PM · The short sibelius pieces (mazurka, romance etc) would be good. However I don't know of a satisfying recording yet of these pieces

March 7, 2007 at 08:12 PM · "Turkey Ascending" made me snort!!

March 7, 2007 at 09:59 PM · A quick search found this



March 7, 2007 at 10:32 PM · I agree with Kimberlee, the Iona Brown recording with Sir Nev and his band is superb and probably does count as the iconic rendition.

Like Koert, I also really enjoyed Janine Jansen's performance here although there is the occasional glitch. Then again, as the resident dirty old man, I can forgive her most things. ;)


PS. Long live Ethel!

March 7, 2007 at 10:48 PM · It's paired with Kennedy's second Elgar.

March 8, 2007 at 04:39 AM · so far i've only listened to Hahn's and Iona Brown's recordings. I think the latter just barely edges out the former. It's a little faster, and that speed makes the dance like parts brighter and crisper.

March 8, 2007 at 06:43 PM · That's what I hear too. The speed gives her recording a higher energy level which resonates with the tone picture--an ascending Lark. Brighter and Crisper are good words.

Hilary Hahn's major strength is her sparkling intonation, which she uses as an expressive force. Beautiful.

It's all in the interpretation. For my own part, and this is very personal, which is why I chickened out and erased this comment earlier. I may ace this out again . . . I lost my brother in a car accident several years ago. I like to think of The Lark Ascending as an expression of the way his spirit left his body when he died. Ascending, searching, finding the light.

March 8, 2007 at 10:28 PM · Don't edit it out again Kimberlee. I think that is a wonderful interpretation and sentiment to be applied to the music - and I'm an aethiest.


March 22, 2007 at 02:26 AM · I have fallen in love with this piece, it's so uplifting!

March 25, 2007 at 06:10 AM · The logical choice for music to study prior to "The Lark Ascending" would surely be: "Surfin' Bird" in the classic rendition by The Trashmen. An excerpt can be heard here:


March 25, 2007 at 06:56 AM · Mr. Steiner,

In light of recent suggestions, I assume that "Surfin Bird" might be followed by "The Hot Canary"?

June 1, 2011 at 04:46 PM ·

I don't know if any of you contributing to this topica are still on V.com but thanks!!  I'm just about to start the Lark (wow, what an asignment!!!, like getting 'accidentally' locked into the chocolate factory) and I just wanted to thank you all for the comments.

I do have one advantage - I grew up in England and spent many a pleasant summers day listening to the larks ('skylark').  They nest on the ground in grass, typically on chalk down-like landscape and, as described above, sing as they ascend higher and higher an astonishingly melodious and carrying song.

Took a while to find - but here is a utube link:


.. note the inflections and trills captured so well in this music..

June 1, 2011 at 05:23 PM ·


OK, so according to WIKI, VW wrote TWO versions of this piece, one for piano (first) and then one for the orchestra - but the latter is the only one heard today.  So which of the two is the Oxford edition (the only one I could get)?  Is it the original piano version or the orchestral one with a piano reduction?

 Here is the full poem..

The Lark Ascending
George Meredith (1828–1909)
  HE rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,         5
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,         10
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,         15
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her musci’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air         20
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d,
Impell’d by what his happy bill         25
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renew’d in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,         30
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright         35
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,         40
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives         45
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,         50
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,         55
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him rais’d,
Puts on the light of children prais’d,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,         60
Though nought be promis’d from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.
For singing till his heaven fills,         65
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:         70
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labor in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;         75
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,         80
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.
Was never voice of ours could say         85
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink:
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,         90
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns         95
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.
Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,         100
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,         105
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve and pass reward,         110
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,         115
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,         120
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

June 1, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

The orchestal version is the full score.  It almost certainly doesn't come with a separate violin solo part, so unless you are very adept at page-turning and reading tiny notes, you should get the edition with piano, which is designed for violinists learning the solo part, whether they intend to perform the work with orchestra or with piano.


On the other hand, if you are intending to lead an orchestra from the solo violin part, you'll undoubtedly need both the piano and the orchestral versions.

By the way, it's both not as hard as it looks and sounds, and much, much harder.  Like everything else worth playing.

June 1, 2011 at 06:15 PM ·

Thanks Bill.   But perhaps I didn't state my question clearly: was the violin parts modified for the much later orchestral rendition or is it identical to the (original) piano version? 

June 1, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·

Actually Bill, I never realized that!  Solo violin parts for concertos are not included with orchestra scores only with the piano reduction?  So a poor soloist thats trying to learn a piece without a piano reduction has to lug the whole thing around :o

Fortunately, its not a problem I am going to have any time soon... :)

June 1, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·

The Wikipedia article seems to say that he revised the work between its original composition in 1914 and its piano and orchestral premieres in 1920/21.  I don't find any evidence that the original version  made it into publication. 


I think that the violin solo part in the piano version is the same as the solo part in the orchestral version.  I doubt the original 1914 version ever made it into print, whether it was composed for violin and piano or violin solo and orchestra.  The violin/piano version was premiered (1920) before the orchestral version (1921).

June 1, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

Ah, I see.  Thanks for hte info and all the links!


June 1, 2011 at 08:21 PM ·

So a poor soloist thats trying to learn a piece without a piano reduction has to lug the whole thing around

No, soloists use a part that comes with a piano reduction to learn the music, and of course they typically play from memory in performance.  Usually soloists have a pianist accompany them from the piano reduction when learning the music prior to rehearsal with full orchestra--that's the purpose of the piano reduction.  (Although some works such as The Lark Ascending can be performed with either orchestra or a piano--that used to be done more often even with concertos, but I don't think anyone would consider performing the Beethoven or Brahms or Tschaikovsky concertos with a piano.)  A soloist would probably want to study the orchestral score to understand the work better, though.

The orchestral score is primarily for the conductor--it includes a line for the solo part in the middle of the orchestral lines so that the conductor knows what to expect from the soloist, but the solo part is printed in type that's too small for a soloist to work from, and there are just a few measures on each page, so there is a constant need to turn the page.  That's not a problem for the conductor, who has one free hand, but wouldn't work for a violinist.  But in performance  conductors frequently work from memory, anyway.

February 8, 2016 at 11:51 PM · Reviving this old thread...

Can anyone confirm that the Oxford violin-with-piano-reduction edition has the same violin part as intended for performance with orchestra? (It looks like it to me, comparing against the score, but I haven't looked sufficiently carefully.)

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