March 2009

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

by Ralph Vaughan Williams

I don't expect that any of you recognized this title, but you've all heard it. I'll admit, this one's a little bit of a cheat.

Dives and Lazarus is an old British folk tune that is known by several different names, including The Star of the County Down (Ireland), Gilderoy (Scotland), The Thresher, Cold blows the wind, and The Murder of Maria Martin (Norfolk). Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Vaughan Williams was commissioned to write this piece for the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. Later, Vaughan Williams took this tune and arranged it as a hymn tune called "Kingsfold". This tune has been used for Protestant hymns such as "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem", "I Heard the Voice of Jesus", and even a Christmas carol named "The Seven Joys of Mary". Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will recognize it as Hymn #284, "If You Could Hie to Kolob", in the 1985 Hymn Book. That's my cheat. This is a sneaky way for me to feature my favorite hymn.

Dives and Lazarus is actually a parable told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31:

  19 ¶ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
  20 And there was a certain abeggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
  21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
  22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the aangels into bAbraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
  23 And in ahell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
  24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
  25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime areceivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
  26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great agulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
  27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
  28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
  29 Abraham saith unto him, They have aMoses and the prophets; let them hear them.
  30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the adead, they will repent.
  31 And he said unto him, If they ahear not Moses and the bprophets, neither will they be cpersuaded, though one rose from the dead.

"Dives" (pronounced "DIE-ves", but "DEE-ves" is also considered correct) is a Latin word meaning "rich", "wealthy", or "splendid". It's used as a proper name here, but it refers to the rich man in the parable.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1872. He died in 1958, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was known for arranging a lot of old British folk tunes. Some of these pieces will be covered in later episodes of Music of the Month.

A variant is simply a different way to play the same tune. This piece starts with the main theme - Dives and Lazarus. Then, in Variant I, you hear the same theme again, but played in more of a waltz. By Variant III, even the key changes. All six segments (the main theme and the five variants) were meant to be heard in order, and, together, they should like one continuous piece.

"If You Could Hie to Kolob" is a poem written by W. W. Phelps set to music. It was first included in the 1950 LDS Hymn book. Here's a little snippet about it from Our Latter-Day Hymns - The Stories and the Messages by Karen Lynn Davidson:

This hymn, included in the choir section of the 1950 hymnal, was too difficult for congregational use and was not often chosen by choirs. Thus the 1985 Hymnbook Committee decided to print the hymn text with a new musical setting. From the first moment the committee tried KINGSFOLD, they felt that this tune captured the ethereal contemplation, the sense of wonder, and the almost mysterious wistfulness of the hymn text. The tune name, KINGSFOLD, is the name of the town in Surrey, England, where Ralph Vaughan Williams noted a version of this lovely folk melody.

I was first exposed to this theme through another Ralph Vaughan Williams piece English Folk Song Suite. The first movement - Seventeen Come Sunday - features a powerful entrance of a variation of Dives and Lazarus in the low brass section. This piece was on the second side of the album containing Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves. I don't remember the first time I heard "If You Could Hie to Kolob". It was probably in the late 1980s, but I instantly recognized the tune. I discovered Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on a BBC Music Magazine CD in 2005 (Vol. 13, No. 6). It features the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Lesley Hatfield. This is the recording you will be listening to.


Introduction and Main Theme from Fiver Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Listen to this three-and-a-half-minute piece. How does the piece make you feel? What do you think about when you hear it? Secondly, listen to the hymn, and following along with the words:

If You Could Hie to Kolob

1. If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?

2. Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers,
"No man has found 'pure space,'
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place."

3. The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race.

4. There is no end to virtue;
There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom;
There is no end to light.
There is no end to union;
There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood;
There is no end to truth.

5. There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

Jon's Interpretation:

I love this hymn. The music has some of the richest and most contemplative sounding harmonies, and the words of W. W. Phelps encourage you to ponder your place in the Plan of Salvation. Kolob is described to Abraham in a vision as the star or planet closest to God. The word hie means to "hasten" or, in this context, "aspire to" or "journey to". This hymn is about aspiring to be in the presence of God, to see what He sees, to know what He knows. It reminds us that God is eternal, the universe is eternal, and we are eternal. If there was ever a hymn I would want to make sure was sung at my own funeral, it would be this one.

Extra Credit:

I only required you to listen to the main theme. If you'd like to hear the five variants, here they are. Each are just a couple minutes long.

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - Variant I
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - Variant II
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - Variant III
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - Variant IV
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - Variant V