BBC internal memorandum from Sir Adrian Boult to Arthur Bliss

Letter No.: 
September 15th 1942

BBC Internal Circulating Memo

From: Sir Adrian Boult

To: D. M.1  (London)

Subject: Dr. Vaughan Williams – Anniversary Programmes

I know it is too late to do anything about it, but I venture to think that something a little more suitable might have been done for my Concert of October 13th in the Vaughan Williams’ Week.
It is surely common knowledge that Harriet Cohen’s performance of the Vaughan Williams’ Pianoforte Concerto2 caused it to be completely dropped since it was first performed.  The work (very stupidly as it was written for Harriet Cohen) was laid out for a pianist of the Busoni calibre, and though she made a very valiant effort, she could get nowhere near the spirit of it or even the notes in many passages.
Frederick Grinke played “The Lark Ascending”3 quite recently with us in the Studio, and we all agreed that the poor lark never left solid earth.  Marie Wilson plays it infinitely better.
It is easy to be wise after the event, and I am continually saying that things must not be held up in an effort to consult me here in Bedford when I am out of reach, but in the one case the matter has been common property for 8 to 10 years, and in the other the performance was so recent that the reports must surely be fresh in the minds of a good many people – I know I myself wrote one to such an effect.
I am indeed sorry that the only contribution that I am making to the Vaughan Williams’ Week with our own Orchestra should consist of these two works.
But I have really dictated this in order to repeat, what A.D.M.4 has already in mind, my request to be allowed to do a number of the other big works during the autumn in the studio.5

A C Boult

1. i.e. Director of Music, Arthur Bliss.
2. Catalogue of Works 1931/3.
3. Catalogue of Works 1920/5.
4. The Assistant Director of Music – at this time Julian Herbage.
5. Bliss replied on 16th September: ‘I am sorry that you have been landed with these two soloists on October 13th.  During the illness of Herbage, I asked Hubert Foss to arrange the week’s scheme; He suggested Grinke for "The Lark Ascending", as he had just heard a fine performance by him.  I am afraid it is too late to alter that as Grinke has been approached by Music Bookings Manager.  With regard to Harriet Cohen, it was the special wish of Vaughan Williams himself that she should play his work if it were included, and Arnold Bax came to tell me, so I feel we can make no change there either.  Of course you must have an opportunity of doing a large orchestral work of Vaughan Williams later.  We will make a point of this.  Congratulations on the magnificent playing of the orchestra last Sunday.  I feel it is again nearing its pre-war form.  Arthur Bliss’.
Boult returned to the fray on 13th October: October 13th 1942: ‘Looking at it dispassionately do you not think you have treated me rather badly in this little matter of Vaughan Williams?  I have of course got the “Pastoral Symphony” on a Wednesday, but otherwise I have been fobbed off with one inefficient soloist  to-day; a provincial choir with two female choruses on Thursday; and absolutely nothing else.   May I in all humility remind the great of the Music Department of the B.B.C. that “Job” is dedicated to me; that I conducted the first performance of the F minor Symphony; that I was intimately concerned with the first performance of “The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains” ; that “Sancta Civitas” is Vaughan Williams’ favourite work; and that Tertis has urgently asked me to allow him to take part in a performance of “Flos Campi”.   A. C. Boult.’


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 910, VW composer
Cobbe 392
Original database number: