CD41 Recordings

Archive CD on CD41 label

CD41-024 £10.00
ISBN: 978-1-906310-18-9

An evocative audiobook CD, Sinfonia Antartica combines polar music by Ralph Vaughan Williams with historic sound recordings from the 'heroic age' of British antarctic exploration.

The digitally remastered CD and download combines two related works by Vaughan Williams for the very first time: his acclaimed soundtrack for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, together with the longer 1953 work based on the film score, Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No. 7). The version of Sinfonia Antartica included here is the 1953 performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult with narration by Sir John Gielgud.

The 68 minute album also features two versions of a rare Captain Robert Scott tribute song recorded in 1913, 'Tis A Story That Shall Live For Ever, sung by Robert Carr and Stanley Kirkby. Listeners will also hear the voice of fellow polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. In addition to his HMV recording made in June 1909, a transfer of his exceptionally rare March 1910 recording is also included, careful restored from an original Edison blue amberol cylinder. To purchase CD click here.

'Brings together rare audio of expeditions and Vaughan Williams' swirling, majestic score for the 1948 Ealing film, with choral shivers and spooky winds gusting in from all directions. If you're in the mood for wild sonic adventure, look no further' (Record Collector, 03/2010)

1. STANLEY KIRKBY Tis A Story That Shall Live For Ever (1913) 3.30
2. RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Sinfonia Antartica (1953) 44.42 - Prelude, Scherzo, Landscape, Intermezzo, Epilogue
3. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON The Dash for the South Pole (1909) 3.46
4. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON My South Polar Expedition (1910) 3.40
5. RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Scott of the Antarctic (1948) 8.24 - Prologue, Pony March, Penguins, Climbing the Glacier, The Return, Blizzard, Final Music
6. ROBERT CARR Tis A Story That Shall Live For Ever (1913) 3.10




During the so-called 'heroic age' of Antarctic exploration from the end of the 19th century to the early 1920s, the names of two British explorers passed into legend: Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912), and Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). Both men took part in Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1901-04, after which Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been beaten by a Norwegian party lead by Roald Amundsen. During their return journey in March, Scott and his four comrades perished through a combination of exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold. Shackleton lead the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17, although disaster struck when their ship, Endurance, was trapped and crushed by pack ice. The arduous escape and rescue of all 28 men took ten months. In 1921 Shackleton returned to the Antarctic, but died of a heart attack near South Georgia.

During the ensuing decades Shackleton's status as a polar hero was generally outshone by that of Captain Scott, a disparity that continued into the 1950s. The first musical commemoration of Captain Scott and his men took place on the afternoon of Sunday 15 February 1913, when Sir Henry Wood inserted to funeral march from Gotterdammerung at the head of a normal concert programme at the Queen's Hall in London. This delay was due in part to the fact that the body of Scott, together with his journal, were found only in November 1912.


'Tis A Story That Shall Live For Ever was written by P Pelham and L Wright, and first released on 78 rpm disc on 5 March 1913 by Victory Records, sung by Robert Carr (B47, 1668). The song pays fulsome tribute to Scott's ill-fated expedition of 1910-12, and press ads for the Victory disc promoting it as 'In Memory of Captain Scott and his Heroic Comrades'. Two months later, on 6 May 1913, another edition of the Carr recording was issued by Diploma Records with a pictorial label, 'in commemoration of the British Hero - a record that should be in everyone's repertoire.' It seems that Scott himself left no sound recordings to posterity.

The Stanley Kirkby version of 'Tis a Story That Shall Live For Ever which opens this CD was released on a green label Zonophone 78 rpm disc in 1913. Billed as 'English Descriptive', with orchestral accompaniment, the other side of the 78 featured Kirkby's version of Be British, a song based on the Titanic disaster. Kirkby was a popular and versatile baritone who made many hundreds of recordings. Zonophone 1050, X-2-42486.

Sir Ernest Shackleton made two different sound recordings following the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09, otherwise known as the Nimrod Expedition, the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Shackleton. It was financed without institutional support and relied on private loans and contributions, including sponsorship from HMV, who also donated a gramophone and 'a bright lot of records to cheer the weary months in the snow-bound regions.' The first Shackleton recording was made in New Zealand on 23 June 1909 and released as 78 disc on HMV (D377) as A Description of the Dash for the South Pole. Even by the standards of the day the recording was crude, and although Shackleton claimed at this time that "I can talk much better than I can write", this recording hardly does justice to his skills as an orator. At the same time Shackleton was under pressure to complete an account of his 1907-09 polar expedition, published as The Heart of the Antarctic in November 1909, and ghost-written by Edward Saunders. The reverse side of the HMV disc featured the recording The Discovery of the North Pole, made in 1910 by Commander Robert Peary, who commanded an American expedition said to have reached the North Pole in 1909, although today this claim is widely disputed. The Shackleton recording remained in the HMV catalogue as late as 1939.

Less well known, the second Shackleton recording, titled My South Polar Expedition, was made in London on 30 March 1910 and released on Edison Blue Amberol cylinder (4M-473). An exceptionally rare sound recording, at the close Shackleton can be heard - just - asking the engineer whether his recording was successful.


The 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic dramatized Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1910-12. John Mills played Scott, with a supporting cast which included James Robertson Justice, Derek Bond, Kenneth More, John Gregson and Barry Letts. Produced by Ealing Studios, the film was directed by Charles Frend largely on location in Norway. The script was by Ivor Montagu, Walter Meade and the novelist Mary Hayley Bell. The film ran for 111 minutes, and was premiered at the Odeon Theatre, Leicester Square, on 30 December 1948.

The score for Scott of the Antarctic was provided by the celebrated British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). This, his most experimental movie score, was written between July 1947 and April 1948, and was awarded first prize at the Prague Film Festival the following year. The seven extracts on this CD were recorded in December 1948 by the Philharmonia Orchestra, and originally released on HMV (C3834/mx 2EA 13525/6).

Of the original film score, Vaughan Williams' widow Ursula wrote in her biography RVW: "He was excited by the demands which the setting of the film made on his invention, to find the musical equivalents for the physical sensations of ice, of wind blowing over the great, uninhabited desolation, of stubborn and impassible ridges of black and ice-covered rock, and to suggest man's endeavour to overcome the rigours of this bleak land and to match mortal spirit against elements. For light relief there were the penguins and the whales." The composer himself intended the main theme to sound 'menacing.'

On reading The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Vaughan Williams was also stirred by the flawed planning of Scott's second polar expedition, and the consequential loss of life. The quality of the score also owed much to tactful mediation by Ernest Irving, musical director at Ealing Films. As James Day has noted, the magnificent Prelude evokes a picture of the dogged dragging of a heavily laden sledge through impenetrable snow and fog, with man set against nature. Themes of mortal toil and sacrifice were all too familiar to the composer, having served with a RAMC unit on the Western Front in 1916, an experience which also inspired elements of his Pastoral Symphony.

Vaughan Williams quickly decided to forge a full symphony from the Scott material and began work in June 1949, although in the event other compositions supervened, and his Symphony No. 7 (aka Sinfonia Antartica) was not completed until 1952. Sinfonia Antartica (the spelling is Italian) is in five movements, and calls for a large orchestra augmented by piano, gongs, organ, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone, vibraphone and a wind machine. A small female chorus also sings wordlessly, providing a disembodied aspect to the first and last movements, achieved by placing the vocalists with their backs to the microphone. The glacier is represented by fortissimo chords on the organ, one of several realistic depictions of Antarctic conditions, others being the whales and penguins encountered in the icy second movement Scherzo. The Intermezzo deployed soft music previously used for the death of Lawrence Oates in the film.

Informally, Vaughan Williams sometimes referred to the work as Aunt Tartyca, and acknowledged that the rising chords at the very beginning were close to a passage from In the South, an earlier work by Elgar. Each of the five movements is prefaced by an appropriate spoken quotation, delivered on this recording by Sir John Gielgud. The authors are, in sequence: Shelley, Prometheus Unbound; Psalm 104, Verse 26; Coleridge, Hymn Before Sunrise; Donne, The Sun Rising; and finally Scott's own expedition 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."

The atmospheric Sinfonia Antartica was first performed by the HallÈ Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli in Manchester on 14 January 1953, this same combination making the first recorded version in June. The version on this CD was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Adrian Boult in December 1953. The featured soprano is Margaret Ritchie, and the linking passages are recited with studied respect by Gielgud. It was originally released on a Decca LP (LXT 2912).

This sonorous work is not generally considered to be one of the best of Vaughan Williams' nine symphonies, a common criticism being that the magnificent Prelude is over-used, and that its development is both limited and episodic. However, the reverential mood of the piece reflects Britain's perennially proud fascination with her polar explorers. In the case of Scott, tragedy heightens the effect, particularly as the music dies down to nothing, leaving only the voices and the Antarctic wind.

James Hayward

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