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Vaughan Williams "Dona Nobis Pacem" Reduced Orchestration(s)

Hi all,
I'm going to be conducting the Vaughan Williams next season, and because of space and budgetary restraints, we can't use full orchestra. Vaughan Williams wrote a reduced orchestration for strings and piano and I wonder if any of you have had experience using it. I know it pales in comparison to the full orchestration, but I'd love to know how it worked, how many strings you used, how large the choir was, and anything else you'd care to share. I know there are other homemade reductions floating around (substituting organ for winds, adding a timp and trumpet to the VW reduction, etc.), and I'd be happy to hear about any of those as well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Replies (9): Threaded | Chronological
on June 14, 2013 10:27am
Hello Frank,
When I conducted the
Jackson Chorale, based
in Jackson, Michigan, we
did the Dona nobis pacem
using the reduced
The chorus numbered
around 50--the string
count was 4/4/4/3/1--
these numbers balanced
perfectly--in an acoustically
lively church that seated
around 300.
The overall effect was
excellent--I had conducted
the piece using the
original large orchestration
in the past--and of course
would have preferred to use
it again--but the reduction
was exactly the right choice
for a chorus of the size
mentioned above--as
Vaughan Williams surely
anticipated when he took
the step of re-orchestrating
the piece to accomodate
the needs of the majority
of choruses in his country
and ours.
The program opened with
a ritual re-enactment of
Civil War colors and pageantry--
I placed the soprano (Valerie
Yova, a Metropolitan Opera
Auditions national winner)
in the balcony to underscore
the angelic role of that solo
part in the work--the program
was well-received.
Best wishes for your performances.
Thomas Sheets, D.M.A.
P.S. We met once--when
I had engaged Chanticleer
to appear at my church in
Anaheim--Christmas 1991--
the concert was memorable--
and remains so in my mind
to this day.
on June 15, 2013 1:35pm
I wouldn't monkey around with the orchestration unless you know that the piece is in the public domain. I recall a recent court case where the RVW's "Serenade to Music," published two years later, was re-orchestrated for fewer instruments and the publisher won a settlement against him.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 16, 2013 12:36pm

Dona Nobis Pacem (Vaughan Williams, Ralph)
With a copyright of ©1936, this work is not PD in the U.S or in the EU and those countries where the copyright term is life+70 years. However, it is public domain only in Canada, China, Japan, S. Korea where the copyright term is life+50 years.

Both the Full orchestration:   
S&Bar Soli—Mixed Chorus———Timp—Perc—Bells—Hp—Org—Str / 40'

The reduction:
S&Bar Soli—Mixed Chorus———Timp—Perc—Bells—Hp -Str / 40'

And the string version are under copyright and all on RENTAL from Oxford/ C. F. Peters.
S&Bar Soli—Chorus—Str—Pf / 40'

C.F. Peters Corp./ Oxford University Press

Peters will ship the rental material to arrive four (4) to six (6) weeks prior to the first performance. Rental orders, quotes, and other rental information is available at:

on February 27, 2016 8:24am
Hi Frank,
I am contemplating performing VW Dona with strings and piano next year. Have I mis-read one of the replies below - ie. it looked like there might be a version that doesnot include the full orch but is not as reduced as strings and piano? I have the score of strings and piano, but as apparently we discovered there is no recording of it on UTube or elsewhere? Any luck on this with you? Knowing the VW full orchestra that i conducted many years back with the Harvard Summer Chorus, that is glorious, I am finding it very hard to imagine the orchestration without brass and especially percussion. I wonder if anyone has done some kind of "hybrid" of string, piano, some percussion, small brass version?
on February 28, 2016 5:56am
I have done the Dona Nobis with reduced orchestration.  At the University of Michigan-Flint, I played the organ, and the conductor decided to use the brass from the original score and perc and timp.  This skews the balance of the orchestra, and I was not particularly happy with the result.  This was with a choir of 65 or so.  Later I did it several times with the RVW strings and piano version ... the strings are lovely, and I didn't use a lot of them ... 3/2/2/1/1 with a choir of 30.  A good effect, but you miss the brass, which do play a large part in the score.  Later I did it again with strings and brass from the score with the remainder played on organ ... you have to manufacture the organ part ... but that worked very nicely.  The strings are so important to the RVW works, but the blaze of brass in this particular work really is impressive and gives a better representation of RVW's intent.  The reductions were not done with a lot of thought onsome of his tunes.  And DNP is one of them.  The strings are from the full version and the piano plays the choral score reduction of full orchestra.  And I'm not even sure RVW approved this arrangement.  On some pieces he did it on purpose, but for others, the publishers or an editor decided it could be done because RVW did it himself a couple times.  You have to use your ear, and figure what your budget can take.  In any case, no matter how you do it ... your choir will love it, and the audience responds in kind.  It's a great piece!  Best of luck.
on February 28, 2016 4:54pm
In the waaaayback machine I was part of a performance of the Williams "Dona Nobis Pacem" with a semi-pro chorus of 20 accompanied by a string quartet and organ.  The organ and organist knew what to do with orchestral registrations and the strings doubled by organ were a wonderful way to make this music come alive.  I believe the organist was working from the piano reduction.  I'm a firm believer in what I've come to call "bailing-wire-spit'n'a-prayer" productions of major works in settings that would be denied access to such glorious music if we waited to afford all the resources needed to realize the score as published.
Rev. Jeremy McLeod
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 29, 2016 9:16am
I just conducted the strings/piano version a little more than a week ago with a choir of about 30 and a string complement of 4-4-2-2-1.  I've sung the piece with the full orchestration (or at least the reduced full orchestation, with fewer brass players) before, so I did miss the brass and percussion, but the arrangement is overall quite effective.  As a few others have noted, the strings are the same as in the full orchestation, and the piano plays a reduction of the wind and brass parts (which is similar to the reduction in the piano/vocal score, but not exactly the same).  For anyone thinking of doing the arrangment, I'd note that there's a fair amount of divisi in the lower strings, so if you can get a few more players there, it wouldn't hurt (the 4-4-4-3-1 string complement Thomas Sheets mentioned above would be ideal, I think).  On the other hand, it worked fine with the group I had, and they were community orchestra string players (who did a very good job with a complicated piece and not much rehearsal time!); having a pair of pros on the viola and cello parts would probably suffice.  As a few others have noted, the great thing about the arrangement is that it opens up the possibility of doing the piece to groups that either aren't large enough or don't have the financial resources to do either of the full orchestrations - my choir certainly wouldn't have been able to perform it any other way, both for those reasons and because we couldn't have fit the full orchestra into our performance space without hanging most of the players from the ceiling!  
On another note, since Jim Marvin mentioned looking for one, there is a YouTube performance of the Houston Camerata doing the piano/strings arrangement (with only one player on each part!), but it doesn't seem to turn up immediately when searched for - here's the link: (note that there is a harpist onscreen, but she doesn't appear to play anything - she must have been doing something else on the program).  Hope that's of some help!
on February 29, 2016 9:47am
One quick correction: after skimming through a bit more of the video, I see that the harpist does play a bit, but the part isn't in the piano/strings orchestration, and one can certainly perform that version without the harp part!
on February 29, 2016 10:06am
I have conducted the strings-and-piano version mentioned in other posts with professional string players and professional pianist and an amateur chorus of 60.
In August 2016 I will be performing Dona nobis pacem with the DaPonte String Quartet and pianist Sean Fleming, with the Lincoln Arts Festival Chorus and Suzanne Nance soprano, and John David Adams, bass. Friday, August 12 at Boothbay Harbor (Maine) Opera House and Sunday, August 14 at Bowdoin College Chapel, Brunswick, Maine.
There is no question that RVW's full orchestration is the best way to go but when space and budgets are limited I recommend professional string players and plenty of rehearsal. This piece needs to be performed more often!
Anthony Antolini
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