Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Arnold Barter

Letter No.: 
VWL125
[About 11th March 1911]

13 Cheyne Walk
Chelsea, S.W. 

Dear Mr Barter1

I hear from Breitkopfs that your performance of my Sea Symphony is coming off very soon now - I didn't know it was so soon2  - & I have been so busy that I have not been able to make the orchestral arrangement of the scherzo - perhaps you are not doing the whole of the work - I have no objection to that as I have said on the title page.3 I find that B&H4 have not finished copying the score - so there is only my copy to conduct from - which I am afraid from frequent revision is very untidy by now.
I am afraid some of the orchestra passages are very hard and are made worse by the disgraceful parts which B&H have provided - do blow them up about it if you find difficulties - they may then be persuaded to have some new copies made.
I have cued in the bass clarinet, 3rd flute, 2nd oboe, Eb clarinet & contrafag. parts - so direct your players to play those cues if you have not those instruments.
If there is no 2nd oboe, the cor anglais must play off the special part provided for the purpose - also the 2nd flute if there is no 3rd flute - if there is no bass clar the 2nd bassoon must play off the special part except in No 3 (scherzo).
I have just been conducting a performance at Oxford so I venture to make one or two suggestions gained from my experience there.5
- I also send a copy of the revised vocal score - the voice parts of which correspond with the full score - however the old voice parts fit with the orchestral parts all right except in those few pages of the last movement which I believe B&H have sent you.
Suggestions
p.3.               Poco animando each entry of the theme in the bass (ie p.4 bar 2 & 7) to be slightly quicker than the last
p.5. bar 1      start beating 2 in the bar
p.7.               start the allegro steady but get rather brighter at p.9. 2nd score
p.13.             the animando starts 4 bars after M.
p.23.             poco animando shd be poco animato - i.e. a little quicker & then steady time.
p.25.             andante - make the soprano solo come on the first beat & not just after, as they have a habit of doing.
p.35.             no need to get any quicker at the “piu mosso”
p.36.             Tempo del principio - slow off a bit in the 3 bars preceding the baritone entry.
p.45.             letter Hh.  I have taken out “meno mosso” as the tempo is really about the same though it sounds slower.
p.66 score 2 “largamente” not too slow - but lightly.
p.81              start as slow as you like - but get a shade quicker at the tenor entry “covered all over”.
p.85              beat 4 here.
p.87              Poco animando start beating 2 here.
p.91              4 bars after H, the C should be c, i.e. continue to beat 2.
p.95              the baritone solo must be rather slower than ♩ = ♩ so get rather slower 5 bars before he comes in (this is marked in the full score).
p.106            Allegro - the metronome mark is too quick here.
p.112           2/2 do not make too much of the allargando etc - a steady 2 in the bar is the only safe way of beating this.
p.112           Allegro agitato not too quick
p.113.          Choruses have great difficulty over these passages - the chorus part may be omitted until they all come in to the last bar of  p. 115.
on page 115 “animato” disregard this

Yrs very truly
R. Vaughan Williams


1. Arnold Barter was conductor of the Bristol Philharmonic Society chorus and orchestra. His 'day job' was as an employee of W.D. & H.O.Wills, the tobacco company. He remained a friend of VW until the end of VW's life.
2. The performance was given on 26th April 1911.
3. This is something of a conundrum. In Works of Vaughan Williams (p.98) Michael Kennedy refers to an allegation made by Hugh Allen that the Scherzo was omitted at the first performance in Leeds, because it was found too difficult by the Festival Chorus. On the other hand the reviews by Herbert Thompson and others refer to that movement being sung, so Allen's statement appears to have been a canard, but one to which the implication of VW's statement that the orchestration of the Scherzo was not yet complete lends some support.
4. Breitkopf & Härtel.
5. The Oxford Choral Society and the Oxford Bach Choir ‘with Dr Allen’s orchestra and professional wind from London Symphony Orchestra’ had given a performance of A Sea Symphony conducted by VW on Wednesday 8th March 1911. The soloists were Viola Salvin and Campbell McInnes who had also sung the baritone solo in the first performance at Leeds). A notice that appeared in The Oxford Times on 11 March is interesting with hindsight: ‘… Does Dr. Williams’s music increase the vivid impression of the words? This is the supreme question, the final test, and only a favourable answer can justify the setting of them to music. Dr. Vaughan Williams is one of our most earnest and gifted composers, and his setting of Towards the Unknown Region had led us to expect a considerable measure of success in a work of similar profound motive, and we were not disappointed. In parts the work receives an impressive and illuminative setting, increasing the effect of the words, and charming as pure music; while in others there is a striving after an ideal setting, which is not realised. The work is over-scored and the orchestration is in parts singularly ineffective . . The work is one of great difficulty, both for chorus and orchestra, even in some parts well-nigh impossible, although it had been somewhat simplified since its first production. Bearing this point in mind, we must allow that the performance was good; at the same time it was far below the standard the local societies have accustomed us to. Dr. Allen and his devoted forces have literally slaved at the work, though dispirited by its excessive difficulty, and then only achieved moderate results.’

Shelfmark of original letter: 
DM433
Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 66
Original database number: 
110311