Letter from Donald Francis Tovey to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL1446
29th November, 1938.

39, Royal Terrace,
Edinburgh, 7.

Dear Vaughan Williams,

We are doing the Sea Symphony on Thursday week, and I am writing my usual notes.1  Can you tell me whether it is possible to print the words in full without paying a thousand pounds to Walt Whitman’s publishers?  If not, of course I shall describe their substance in my own terms, but of course it greatly simplifies matters if one can put the references to musical quotations in their place in the poem.  I think we are going to do the thing fairly well, though we shall have to take advantage of some of your cueing in.
I hope all your news is good.
Yours sincerely,

P.S.  About the drum-roll that supports the chorus on the word “sea” at the very beginning: what would you think of having the stroke of the big drum on the first beat instead of the second?  Now that I see you have the big drum on the second beat I am in two minds about it, but I had hitherto always thought that a boom on the big drum would add an oceanic solemnity to the crack of the tympani.2


1.  Because of illness Tovey did not in fact write an analytical essay on the symphony.
2.  After the 1910 première of the symphony, Tovey had suggested to VW that the orchestral accompaniment to bar 4 of the first movement, which had originally begun on the first beat of the bar along with the chorus’s ‘sea’ would - except for the tympani and organ pedal - be delayed to the second beat. VW concurred (see WVW 99-100 and Mary Grierson, Donald Francis Tovey: a biography based on letters, Oxford 1952, p.318). He gave Tovey a copy of the original Breitkopf & Härtel vocal score (inscribed ‘From RVW avec hommages’) in which the bar in question is emended in MS with VW’s marginal note: ‘I thank thee, D.F.T., for teaching me that note!’. The revision ids incorporated into the 1924 revised edition of the Full Score. Looking at this in 1938 Tovey is now pondering a removal of the bass-drum’s entry back to the first beat, to reinforce the tympani. (I am grateful to Roger Savage for the information in this note).

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
L206/1 (file copy)
General notes: 

Typewritten office copy of the letter sent.

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
381129