Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Ferdinand Rauter

Letter No.: 
Aug 16 [1942]

The White Gates,

Dear Dr Rauter1

Your letter has opened up a great problem.
I find it difficult to state but I want as a preface that nothing contained in this letter affects my personal affection for my many Austrian friends; nor my admiration for their art.
The great thing which frightens me in the late peaceful invasion of this country by Austria is that it will entirely devour the tender little flower of our English culture. The Austrians have a great musical tradition, and they are apt to think that it is the only musical tradition and that everything which is different must be wrong or ignorant; they think moreover that they have a mission to impose their culture wherever they go as being the only one worth having.
Now this seems to me to be all wrong.
We cannot swallow the strong meat of your culture whole (even if we wished to) our stomachs are not strong enough - indigestion & finally artistic putrefaction would result.
To try and make England, musically, a dependency of Austria could kill all the musical initiative in this country - destroy all that is vital and substitute a mechanical imitation of your great art - which will have no vitality, no roots in the soil and no power to grow to full stature.
What do I suggest therefore? - We want your art and we want your help - Become Englishmen - try to assimilate our artistic ideals and then strengthen and fertilize them from your own incomparable art - But do not force a “Little Austria” on England - keeping itself apart from the “untouchables” and having its own musical life without any reference to the life going on around. This would not only be of no value to our country but would actually be a disservice - because people seeing this little body of musical aristocrats with their art perfected by generations of artistic endeavour would think that was the only art worth having and that they could reap without sowing by a mere mechanical imitation of Austrian music.
As you must already know from your sojourn in England that there is a tendency, clearly, among English people to take it that “Schmidt” is musical - while Smith is ipso facto unmusical. You must not stand apart and say “Schmidt is musical - you are not. Your only chance is to become musical Schmidts” - You must help Smith to realise that he is musical, help him to discover where his artistic nature lies hidden and to help it to grow to a full flower
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

1. An Austrian musician who had settled in London in the later 1930s. He had been interned and, in due course, released on the recommendation of VW’s committee. He published a number of collections of folk songs in co-operation with the Icelandic singer Engel Lund, whose accompanist he was, and with Ursula Vaughan Williams. He founded the Anglo-Austrian Music Society and this letter was written in response to his invitation to VW to become its Patron. After the war he entered the field of music therapy and was awarded the Goldene Ehrenzeichen by the Austrian Chancellor in 1977. See Österreicher in Exil: Großbritannien 1938-45. Eine Dokumentation (Vienna, Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1992), pp.449-452 etc.


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Music & Migration Collections
Cobbe 390
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