Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Adrian Boult (BBC)

Letter No.: 
[About 2nd September 1940]

The White Gates,

Dear Adrian

I wish I’d known of this 6 months ago  -  because in a way I feel I’ve already shot my bolt & the M.O.I. are a way behind the fair1 -  I shd love for the B.B.C. to have had the enclosed which I think wd have just filled the bill  -  But as they did not ask me for anything I offered them to the Proms (who did ask me) & they are to be done on the 10th.2
Then the Bach Choir asked me & I refused them because I felt I had done all the occasional music I can  -  so if I do anything more it must be B.C. before the B.B.C.  -  But perhaps a commission wd make me start writing which I feel quite incapable of at present.
So will you send me more details  -  I do not understand at present what you want
Is it (so to speak) the “Jerusalem” brand or the “Blest pair of sirens” brand that you want?
As regards words I should probably want to go to the old masters  -  But if the BBC like to send me any contemporary poems I wd consider them  -  but not promise to use them.3


1. Boult had written on 2 September: ‘At the instigation of the Ministry of Information, the B.B.C. has asked me to approach you and ask you whether you would consider the acceptance of a commission to compose a “Song or lay hymn” with orchestral accompaniment on a patriotic (but not necessarily war-like) theme; the lyric to be chosen by you from existing lyrics, or from poems which would be commissioned from certain living poets. I won’t enter at this point into further detail until I know whether you are interested enough to consider a proposal of this sort. Needless to say, I very much hope you will be, as it is you we want.’
2. Six Choral Songs - To be Sung in Time of War (Catalogue of Works 1940/1). The first performance planned for a Promenade Concert on 10 September was cancelled due to air raids and was eventually given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Chorus under Leslie Woodgate in a broadcast concert on 20 December 1940.  In 1940 and 1941, because of a disagreement between the BBC and the lessors of the Queen's Hall, the Promenade Concerts were managed by Keith Douglas operating under the auspices of the Royal Philharmonic Society rather than by the BBC, so that offering a work for the Proms was not tantamount to offering it to the BBC, as would have been the case before or after that period. See Jennifer Doctor and David Wright (eds.), The Proms: a new history (London, 2007), p.116 ff.
3. The work eventually written in response to this request was England, my England (Catalogue of Works 1941/1), a setting of W.C. Henley's Pro Rege Nostro. See VWL1463.

Location of original letter:

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

Written in response to a letter  from Boult dated 2nd September.
Printed in Jerrold Northrop Moore, Music and Friends: Seven decades of letters to Adrian Boult, London 1979.

Cobbe 345; Moore, Music and Friends, pp.132-133
Original database number: