Ralph is not Rafe!

September 28, 2010

I grew up within listening distance of BBC Radio and TV  programs and yet it took me a while to appreciate the amazing depth of their classical music broadcasts. In the days when I was faking illness and playing what Americans call hookey and doing what Brits call Skiving I watched a TV program called either BBC Schools or Open University. In the intervals between  programs classical music was played. Prokofiev, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Ravel and more fin de siecle and early 20thCentury greats. It fired my passion for classical music that burns even stronger now, and with a wider flame.

But in those far off times the greats had to compete with Chuck Berry, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Sextet, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and all the burgeoning flowers of rock, soul, and jazz. But when I listened to the greats on the Beeb I never once heard an announcer pronounce the forename of Vaughan Williams as Rafe. It was always Ralph, Ralph with an L.

And for years announcers on classical stations across America continued to call him Ralph. Only recently have I noticed a disturbing habit of calling this wonderful composer Rafe. My reaction has been to say, who? Are you talking about the composer I know?

It strikes me as pretentious, and posing. OK so Ralph Fiennes wants to be called Rafe; and he is still alive (I think)

I admit that I do not know what his Mummy and Daddy called Ralph Vaughan WIlliams but can the BBC be wrong?

Before I call up my long suffering local classical station to lambast them I am interested in your opinion. Sadly misguided as it may be. Long live Ralph with an L, as in Lummox! And now I am orf to lissen to sum Freddie Chopping or izit Bennie Britn?


2 Responses to “Ralph is not Rafe!”

  1. John said

    Interesting – now even websites maintain his name was pronounced “Rafe.” However – I knew a student who studied violin at the RAM in London in the 1940s – met VW personally and was understandably in awe of the “legendary” figure. He was understandably deferential, and embarrassed at not knowing how to address the great man. My friend told me VW simply said – “Call me Uncle Ralph.” And when VW said that, there was an “l” and short “a” in the name!

  2. bobsterry said

    Thank you, John. I assume from your nom de plume that you are a string musician in or from NZ. You win the prize for making the first comment on this posting, and supporting my campaign for less pretense and more music.


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