Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Julian Herbage at the BBC

Letter No.: 
Jan 13 1934

The White Gates,

Dear Mr. Herbage1

I received yesterday a letter from Dr Boult kindly inviting me to conduct a concert of my works on February 18, with rehearsals Feb 16 10.30 - Feb 17 10 o’c - Feb 18 10 o’c- I have noted these dates.2
As regards the programme is it irrevocably fixed, or may I make some suggestions - They are - instead of the Mystical Songs3 which do not go very well without chorus would it be possible to substitute my “Four Hymns” for Tenor or Soprano Solo4 with accompaniment of viola obbligato and string orchestra (Boosey).  These were originally sung by Mr Steuart Wilson - They have also been sung by Miss Dorothy Silk and Miss Thea Phillips.  As these are rather shorter than the Mystical Songs you might want a short extra piece.  I made an arrangement of traditional dance tunes for the “Running Set” at the recent Festival of E.F.D.S.5 at the Albert Hall.  This plays less than 5 minutes.  It has only a small orchestra, but requires a pianoforte.  Would this be suitable?  Another possibility is to substitute my “Concerto Accademico”6  for violin and string orchestra for the Norfolk Rhapsody.7 If you cared to include this I feel sure you need not go outside your own personnel for the soloist - Mr Cattenall or Miss Wilson or Mr Weist Hill & doubtless some others would I am sure play it beautifully.8
Yours sincerely

R Vaughan Williams

N.B. The title of No 1 is “Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis” (not “Variations” or “Phantasy”)  RVW

1. Herbage was on the music staff of the BBC – he later became Assistant Director of Music.
2. Boult had written on 11th January: ‘For our Sunday Orchestral Concert on February 18th we propose to give a Concert of your works and should be very glad indeed if you would care to conduct.  As we have already included the “London Symphony” in a Sunday Orchestral Concert this Season, and as “Job” will, of course, be played in the Queen’s Hall Symphony Concerts, we would suggest that the following would be a thoroughly representative programme:-
   1. Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
   2. Norfolk Rhapsody (No. 1, 2 or 3.)
   3. Mystical Songs.
   4. Pastoral Symphony.
The “Mystical Songs” we would propose performing without Chorus as, unfortunately, it is quite impossible to arrange for a Chorus to be present at this Concert.  We should be very glad to know if you approve of this programme, or whether you have any suggestions for improving it.
With regard to rehearsals, we have pencilled the following:-
 Friday, February 16th.   10.30 – 12.30 p.m. (Strings only)
 Saturday, February 17th. 10.0 – 1.0 p.m.
 Sunday, February 18th. 10.0 – 1.0 p.m.
If there is any further point to be discussed, and if I personally, am not available – I am, of course, rehearsing all day now for the Concerts of British Music and am then going straight away for a short holiday – perhaps you could get into touch with Mr. Herbage here who will, no doubt, be able to make what arrangements you desire.
3. Catalogue of Works, 1911/2.
4. Catalogue of Works, 1914/2.
5. English Folk Dance Society
6. Catalogue of Works, 1925/7.
7. Catalogue of Works, 1906/2.
8. On 15th January Herbage replied:
Many thanks for your letter of the 13th from which we are glad to see that you will conduct the Concert of your works on February 18th.
As regards the programme, certainly we will be pleased to make any of the alterations you suggest.  The “Four Hymns” for tenor or soprano, viola obbligato and string orchestra could quite easily replace the “Mystical Songs”, in which case do you think it would be a good idea to engage either Miss Dorothy Silk or Miss Thea Philips in order that the same artist could also sing the soprano solo in the “Pastoral Symphony”.  We feel, however, that it would be as well not to replace the “Norfolk Rhapsody” by the “Concerto Accademico” as we would have rather a preponderance of music for strings only (the “Tallis Fantasia” and “Four Hymns” being also included in the programme).
The length of the programme could, no doubt, be adjusted by the choice of the “Norfolk Rhapsody” and the inclusion, or otherwise, of the traditional dance tunes for the “Running Set”.  Perhaps, therefore, you would let us know which Rhapsody you would prefer to play, and also your timings for all the works to be included.  The total playing time should be between seventy-two and seventy-five minutes.
May I now summarise the suggested programme:-
 Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis  (18 minutes)
 Norfolk Rhapsody (No.1, 2 or 3).  (?8 minutes).
 Four Hymns    (?15 minutes).
  Soprano solo: Dorothy Silk (or Thea Philips).
  Viola obbligato: Bernard Shore.
 (Traditional dance tunes for the “Running Set”) (5 minutes).
  Pianoforte obbligato Berkeley Mason or Ernest Lush. 
 Pastoral Symphony   (37 minutes).
  Soprano solo: Dorothy Silk.
I should be very glad to hear if this meets with your approval.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 910, VW artist
General notes: 

In the hand of AVW, signed by VW.

Original database number: