Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) did not have a large output for solo organ, and he is not known for his keyboard works in general. But he was certainly familiar with the organ from his many choral works (oratorios, motets, etc.) where he used it in a largely accompanimental role. These preludes belie his keyboard reputation: he demonstrates here his mastery of the organ, producing three worthwhile compositions that make the listener regret that he did not compose more for the instrument.
"Bryn Calfaria", is the first of the group of "Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes." and is not played too often. It has some "interpretive issues" and does not have the immediate "pretty appeal" that the most famous of the collection, "Rhosymedre" does. In many ways, it is the most "Vaughan Williamsish" of the group.
The three preludes were published by Stainer & Bell in 1920. They are dedicated to Alan Gray (1855-1935), who was organist at Trinity College, Cambridge. The three preludes are actually intended to be played together, although I think this is rarely the case.
"Bryn Calfaria" sets the famous, rugged tune, composed by William Owen (1814-1893) in a sort of fantasia-like manner. The tune is stated in phrases, which are broken up by "flourishes" marked to be played "senza misura" (as in, without measure/free time), and these can be hard to get right.
A fughetta follows, and the texture and density increase leading to a climactic return of the rhapsodic passages. This leads to a final statement of the last phrase of the hymn.
I've always thought of this is a VERY fussy piece to bring across!
This coming Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. This hymn, while not being "for" this Sunday, is a hymn that speaks to the majesty of Christ, and really summarizes the triumphs of his Life. I'll also upload the hymn separately.
The score is attached below, as well as an early photo of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and one of Alan Gray.