Letter from Harriet Cohen to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
22nd July, 1933.

I have three very important things to tell you.  You must excuse typescript letter but I am rushing off to Malvern to play the Elgar Quintet.
Firstly., I had hoped you are better. Arnold  gave me good reports of you.1
Secondly.  I am playing your concerto at the Strasbourg Festival, which Hermann Scherchen is giving in August.  It will be a terrific affair.  It is composed of music written only during the last fifteen years.
Thirdly, and the most important.  I listened in to your Charterhouse Suite the other day.  This is a person who plays Byrd, Gibbons, Arne, Purcell, Handel etc., and I came absolutely to the conclusion, knowing it was originally a piano piece, that it would make a most divine piece for piano and string orchestra.  Therefore, darling angel, for my sake, because I need modern piano pieces for piano and string orchestra (with trumpet and drum if necessary), because I am continually being asked for such, and now I know the history of the score of the score2 of this work, (because Arnold told me), surely if you do the parts of this works3 again you will have all the score to your satisfaction and done by yourself.4  I have the chance of my life in New York if you will do this for me.  There is a marvellous young conductor, Hermann, who has formed an orchestra which is a striking success, and you know how difficult it is to get engagements.  Szigeti is playing in this series of concerts and you can imagine he is the idol of America.  So you see what it means to me and there is no other work except Constant’s jazzy Concerto, and that does not suit me.5
Arnold is in agreement with me and says it is perfectly divine, and you might be able to do during your enforced idleness (idleness is hardly the word, but you know what I mean).6
Please let me know what you feel.
Arnold said you would probably let the piano part stand as originally written so that you first re-wrote the suite and re-scored it.  In that case you might like to do it for my Orchestral concert on October 21st with Lambert as conductor.
Yes, I am being rash enough to do this terrible thing.  Of course it would help me through with a new work from you.7
Your most adoring,

P.S.  I made your publisher send the Tallis Variations to Scherchen.8 I told him it is one of the greatest modern works, and hope he will do it everywhere.  I shall be quite contented, if I have, to play, by one celebrated composer called Vaughan Williams, for piano and full orchestra, the Charterhouse Suite, piano sonata, Sonata for viola and piano and piano quintet.  You did better buck up!  Aren’t I a little scorpion?

1. Arnold Bax. VW was recovering from a fractured ankle.
2. sic.
3. sic.
4. James Brown had made the string arrangement of the suite as The Charterhouse Suite, see Catalogue of Works 1920/6.
5. Constant Lambert
6. VW was laid up with his broken ankle.
7. For VW’s reply see VWL1068.
8. The conductor Hermann Scherchen.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1642, ff. 39-40
General notes: 

Typescript carbon copy

Original database number: