Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music”: “Such Harmony is in Immortal Souls”

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music was conceived in 1938 as a tribute to the conductor, Sir Henry Wood. The piece endures as a shimmering and sensuous celebration of music itself, set to the majestic words of Shakespeare.

The work’s Royal Albert Hall premiere, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Woods’ first concert, was a uniquely collective musical celebration. The ensemble included members from three major London orchestras (the LSO, LPO, and BBC Symphony), as well as sixteen of the most esteemed British singers of the time. At some moments throughout the piece, the voices form a choir. At other times, they emerge as solo lines, designated in Vaughan Williams’ score with the initials of the original singers. The text was adapted from Lorenzo’s speech to Jessica in Act V of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. 

From the opening bars, we enter a serene, nocturnal soundscape. A rich, celestial tapestry unfolds before us, from the solo violin’s “sweet harmony” to the call of the trumpet, summoning Diana, the immortal patroness of the hunt.

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look, how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb that thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn:
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,
And draw her home with music.

-William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene 1


  • Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music, Sir Roger Norrington, London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • This 1938 recording, conducted by Sir Henry Wood features the original performers.

Photograph: “The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge, London,” John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music”: “Such Harmony is in Immortal Souls””

  1. Rachmaninoff, who was in the audience for the premiere, was seen to have been moved to tears, and later wrote to Mr. Wood that he had never been affected so much by a piece of music.


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