Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Norman Peterkin

Letter No.: 
Aug 9th [1942]

The White Gates,

Dear Peterkin

I was very much upset by all this trouble with Stainer & Bell - but we must not judge the rights and wrongs of the case because Howard was bad mannered.1  
It seems to me that on 2 points we put ourselves in the wrong:-
(1)  In not originally asking S & B for leave to include the 3 carols in my Iceland M.S.2
(2)  In not finding out about the terms on which the O.C.B.3 obtained leave to print those carols.
My point of view is:-
(1)  I owe a lot to Stainer & Bell who published big works of mine when I was comparatively unknown long before the O.U.P as music publishers existed.
(2)  Howard has always been very friendly to me and has never shown any grudge against me for deserting him 1st for Curwen & then for O.U.P.
(3)  The carols in their original arrangement do belong to them so it seems logical that they should have the male voice arrangement.
So I propose, as we agreed, over the telephone that we should omit the 2 (or 3) carols from the O.U.P. book.
Then comes the problem.  Howard may say (and with some justification) “Here are these carols already arranged - you cannot publish them elsewhere - why not with us?”
Am I to say ‘no’ - that would surely be a very ‘dog in the manger’ policy.
I think I must ask Sir Humphrey in this instance (supposing always Howard asks me for them) to let me off my ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with him.4
You say that O.U.P are my ‘exclusive’ publishers - but in this case it is not a new composition that Stainer & Bell would publish, but a rearrangement of a work which is clearly their property and could not anyhow be the exclusive property of the O.U.P.  You may rest assured that I shall not offer these carols to Stainer & Bell - But supposing they ask for them I must be prepared with my answer.  I should be glad if you would show this letter to Sir Humphrey.5
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

1.  Peterkin had written on 21 July to Stainer & Bell asking for permission to include in Twelve carols for male voices, Catalogue of Works 1942/4, new male voice versions of ‘The truth sent from above’,  ‘On Christmas night’ and Yorkshire Wassail, the tunes originally published in 1919 by that firm in Eight traditional English carols, edited by VW (Catalogue of Works 1917/5).  Ellis Howard, Managing Director of the firm, had refused permission and turned down a later proposal that they be published jointly by S&B and OUP.  [Beside VW’s comment about Howard’s being bad mannered Peterkin added a note ‘he was worse, he was vindictive’.]
2.  In VWL1641 Peterkin had informed Humphrey Milford: 'The other work I was holding is a set of 10 or 12 carols - chiefly from the Oxford Carol Book - arranged by V.W. for male voice chorus at the request of the British Council for performance by H.M. Forces in Iceland.  When this cropped up first last November, V.W. left the business end of the matter in my hands and I fixed things with the British Council reserving all rights to the composer and O.U.P.  The Council have recently returned the MS to me after the Iceland performance and are most anxious to have printed copies from us.  I told Miss Henn Collins we would certainly try and put them into print in good time for next season, and I intended to discuss first with V.W. then place [the] matter before you.  V.W. is keen himself on getting them cut and has taken the MS for final look through.’
3.  Oxford Carol Book
4.  Humphrey Milford
5.  In the end, it was agreed to omit the three carols in which Stainer & Bell had an interest and Oxford University Press proceeded to publish the set as Nine carols for male voices.  Manuscripts of the three disputed carols were returned to VW.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 1198
General notes: 

Signed by VW.
Peterkin wrote to Milford on 11 September about all the complications and Peterkin wrote to VW on 17 September with Milford's response.  The manuscripts were returned to VW and OUP allowed him to publish with Stainer & Bell if S&B approached him for the arrangements.

Cobbe 389
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