In 1939, the composer Ralph Vaughn Williams was commissioned by the British Council to write a piece for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. Williams chose to write a work for harp and string orchestra entitled Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, named for the story in Luke’s Gospel of the relationship, both during life and after death, between a rich man and the poor beggar named Lazarus who abides at his doorstep. Vaughn Williams’ piece is based on the ancient folk tune Dives and Lazarus, which was traditionally sung as a Christmas carol, but also had many other lyrics attached to it over time. It was first performed by the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.
As it fell out upon a day, Rich Dives he made a feast,
And he invited all his friends, and gentry of the best.
Then Lazarus laid him down and down,
And down at Dives’ door:
Some meat, some drink, brother Dives,
Bestow upon the poor.
To hear R. Vaughn Williams' composition, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, click on the video below:
Image source: Lazarus, fresco from St. Clement of Tahüll (ca. 1123), currently at the Museu Nacional d'Arte de Catalunya, Barcelona, courtesy of Fr Patrick Michaels, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1203722873143238&set=pcb.1203724739809718&type=3&theater