Sinfonia antartica

February 19, 2011

 

Piper Kerr with Emperor Penguin, taken during the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-4. This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sinfonia antartica. (Source: Royal Scottish Geographical Society)

Ralph Vaughan Williams was asked to provide music for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, which was a dramatization of Scott’s last expedition and quest for the South Pole. Upon completion of the film score he re-worked the music into his Symphony No.7, which he titled “Sinfonia antartica”. (Note the dropped ‘c’; the title is in Italian and so follows the debased Latin convention.)

The symphony is notable especially for the inclusion in the orchestra of a wind machine, which produces a kind of blustery whirring sound as of a tremendous storm sweeping across a snow field to buffet one’s tent. The symphony is in five movements, each prefaced (in the score, and sometimes, rather awkwardly, in performance) by a literary quotation.

When I listen to this symphony at home, I like to huddle over my Primus stove eating hoosh during the first three movements, and then climb into my reindeer-hide sleeping bag during the final two.

Here is the last movement of the symphony, which is prefaced in the score by this quote from Scott’s journal: “I do not regret this journey; we took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint.” It is performed here by the Halle Orchestra led by John Barbirolli. The wind machine can be heard to good effect especially during the final minute.

3 Responses to “Sinfonia antartica”


  1. […] is a dramatization of the South Pole trek undertaken by Scott and his companions, with a famous film score by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is a quite faithful adaptation, filmed mostly on location, and it […]

  2. Mac Says:

    There’s something in the stance of that penguin that suggests exasperation–as if he had chosen the penguin lifestyle in part because he knew he would never be bothered by bagpipers, and now look what’s happened.

  3. Janet Says:

    The story of my life.

    AMDG


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