Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England, the third child of a clergyman.
He was educated at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College in Cambridge University, where Sir Hubert Parry (of "Jerusalem
" fame) was his tutor.
After leaving Cambridge University, Vaughan Williams became organist of St. Barnabas' Church in London. He held the position from 1895 to 1899 for a salary of £50 a year.
Dissatisfied with the music he had written, Vaughan Williams went to Paris in 1909 to work with Maurice Ravel. His studies with the French composer helped him clarify the textures of his music.
The following year Vaughan Williams completed his first significant composition, the popular "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis." The piece is for a string orchestra divided into two sections, using a theme by the 16th century composer Tallis.
His "The Lark Ascending
" (1914) has been voted the UK's most popular piece of music several times in an annual poll of Classic FM listeners.
Ralph Vaughan Williams was 42 when World War I broke out in 1914. He could have avoided military service, but he volunteered for the medical corps as a private. With the Royal Army Medical Corps he drove ambulance wagons in France and later in Greece. Vaughan Williams had a dangerous time of it, constantly having to go into no man's land under enemy fire to bring back the wounded.
As well as nine symphonies, Vaughan Williams also composed the ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing
(1930), the opera The Pilgrim's Progress
(1948-9), and numerous choral works, songs, and hymns, including an adaptation of "To Be A Pilgrim
Vaughan Williams wrote a huge amount of music for the 1948 movie Scott of the Antarctic – far more than was used in the film. Never one to waste good material, the composer used the music for his epic "Sinfonia Antartica."
Vaughan Williams became increasingly deaf in his old age. This was because of the noise of gunfire he had been exposed to when he was serving as a stretcher bearer in World War I.
He went on composing through his 70s and 80s, producing his last symphony months before his death at the age of 85. (Source The Encyclopedia of Trivia