One of the leading English composers of his generation, Vaughan Williams was a pupil of Parry, Charles Wood and Stanford, and later of Bruch and Ravel. In his work as a composer he went some way towards creating a specifically English musical idiom, influenced by his interest in folk-song, but coloured by his own personal vision and language.
The stage music of Vaughan Williams includes the Shakespearean opera Sir John in Love, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, the masque for dancing Job and the morality The Pilgrim's Progress, based on John Bunyan. Incidental music for the theatre includes music for The Wasps by Aristophanes, of which the Overture is often heard. He also wrote a number of film-scores. Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, the first of these with solo singers, chorus and orchestra A Sea Symphony, with words taken from Walt Whitman, the second "A London" Symphony and the third a "Pastoral" Symphony. The Sixth Symphony, completed in its first version in 1947, seemed to break new ground and was followed by a seventh, the Sinfonia Antartica, that had its origin in a film soundtrack. Compositions by Vaughan Williams for solo instrument and orchestra include the pastoral romance The Lark Ascending, for solo violin, and a Concerto accademico for solo violin and string orchestra. There is an attractive concerto for oboe and two more unusual concertos, one for harmonica and the other for bass tuba. Flos campi uses a solo viola and is scored also for a small choir and chamber orchestra. Suites etc. Vaughan Williams made direct use of folk-song in his three Norfolk Rhapsodies, his Fantasia on Greensleeves, for solo flute, harp and strings and in his English Folksong Suite for military band, among other works. His Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for two string orchestras returns to the 16th century for its musical inspiration.
Vaughan Williams made a substantial contribution to English choral and vocal repertoire in compositions that include the fine Serenade to Music, completed in 1938. Other compositions range from oratorio to hymn-tune, from folk-song arrangement to the evocative On Wenlock Edge, a setting of poems by A.E. Housman.