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Pilgrim's Progress The Pilgrim's Progress

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Ralph Vaughan Williams (born Down Ampney, 12 October 1872; died London, 26 August 1958.




The Pilgrim's Progress (1679 and 1684) by John Bunyan (1628-88).



First Performance: London (Covent Garden), 26 April 1951.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (King's Theatre), 18 March 1952.



In spite of his agnosticism, Vaughan Williams was drawn to the majestic prose of Bunyan's masterpiece at regular intervals throughout his career. He first worked on a suite of incidental music for a theatrical presentation in 1906. Just after the First World War he returned to the subject, composing a brief stage work, The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. He began work on a full-length operatic adaptation almost immediately (though he did not actually call it an opera, preferring the term morality). The Shepherds was incorporated into the new work, which occupied him up to 1935. He then took a break, concentrating on other things until World War Two. He completed it during the immediate post-war period. Bunyan's title character, Christian, is known simply as Pilgrim in the Vaughan Williams version, to avoid any overt references to Christianity.

The work contains much beautiful music, but has taken many years to gain acceptance as a theatre piece. A recording by Sir Adrian Boult helped renew interest in the work a couple of decades after the premiere. A second one, conducted by Richard Hickox, furthered the process, and it has since been staged successfully by various student bodies as well as the major London houses.


Main Characters

John Bunyan (bass-baritone)

Pilgrim (baritone)

Evangelist (bass)

Apollyon (bass)

Lord Lechery (tenor)

Lord Hate-Good (bass)

Mr and Mrs By-Ends (tenor & contralto)


Plot Summary

The prologue and epilogue frame the work with the character of Bunyan himself, imprisoned in Bedford, and at work on his writing. He completes it at the end, and in between we see several episodes enacted.

Pilgrim is inspired to start his journey by an Evangelist, and encouraged on departure by the Shining Ones. In the Valley of Humiliation, he fights and defeats Apollyon. He is wounded in the process, but is helped by two Heavenly Beings, and once more guided by the Evangelist. At Vanity Fair he resists a series of temptations, but is cast into prison under sentence of death. The Evangelist had earlier given him a Key of Promise, with which he is able to escape. He is now directed to the Delectable Mountains, where he meets the shepherds. He is summoned to the Celestial City, where a messenger shoots an arrow and pierces his heart. Pilgrim passes through the River of Death and reaches the gates of the Celestial City.

The Cast

Angel of the Lord
Celestial Messenger
 in Vanity Fair
First Heavenly Being
First Shepherd
First Shining One
First Voice
 from Celestial Choir
Fourth Voice
 from Celestial Choir
 in Vanity Fair
 in Vanity Fair
John Bunyan
Judas Iscariot
 in Vanity Fair
Lord Hate-Good
Lord Lechery
 in Vanity Fair
Madam Bubble
 in Vanity Fair
Madam Bye-Ends
Madam Wanton
 in Vanity Fair
 a neighbour
Mr Bye-Ends
 a neighbour
 a neighbour
Pontius Pilate
 in Vanity Fair
Second Heavenly Being
Second Shepherd
Second Shining One
Second Voice
 from Celestial Choir
Simon Magus
 in Vanity Fair
Third Shepherd
Third Shining One
Third Voice
 from Celestial Choir
 a neighbour
Voice of a Bird
Woodcutter's Boy
Worldly Glory
 in Vanity Fair

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