Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony in E minor, published as Symphony No. 6, was composed in 1944–47, during and immediately after World War II and revised in 1950. Dedicated to Michael Mullinar, it was first performed, in its original version, by Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 21 April 1948. Within a year it had received some 100 performances, including the U.S. premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky on 7 August 1948. Leopold Stokowski gave the first New York performances the following January with the New York Philharmonic and immediately recorded it, declaring that "this is music that will take its place with the greatest creations of the masters."[This quote needs a citation] However, Vaughan Williams, very nervous about this symphony, threatened several times to tear up the draft. At the same time, his programme note for the first performance took a defiantly flippant tone.[citation needed]

Perhaps the composer never intended the symphony to be programmatic, but it was inevitable that his post-war audience should associate its disturbing and often violent character with the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In response to these questions, he is widely quoted as having said, "It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music". In connection with the last movement, the composer did eventually suggest that a quotation from Act IV of Shakespeare's The Tempest comes close to the music's meaning: "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep."

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