Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Charles Moody

Letter No.: 

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Dr Moody,1

It would be a terrible thing if the Cathedral tradition were to disappear, and I hope very much that you will win your fight with the Dean and Chapter.2 These people do not seem to realise that music also has its nobilities and indecencies. I wonder what they would say if it was suggested that a chapter from a pornographic novel should be substituted for the first lesson? or that the Lord's Prayer should be rewritten in the style of American journalism? And yet they permit, and even encourage, such indecencies in music for the sake of "bringing people to church".
I admit, and I know that you agree, that the people should have a share in the service, but there is no more reason why they should join in the anthem and canticles than in the Absolution or the "comfortable words". And further I think the idea of a choir service is a noble one, where the people come only to listen and meditate. Would not a practical solution be to have a Choir Service every Sunday at 10am and 3pm, and a congregational service at 11am and 6pm?
We must beat this ecclesiastical totalitarianism somehow, but we can only do so by confining ourselves to what is really noble in our cathedral repertory. You know of course that many of our Canticles and Anthems are vicious, theatrical, mechanical or intolerably smug. Unless we can root those out of our services we shall give the enemy cause to blaspheme.3
Please make any use you like of this letter.
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

1. Organist of Ripon Cathedral 1902-1954.
2. In a note to UVW (June 3rd 1959) Moody explained that, supported by the Royal College of Organists, he had been opposing the Dean and Chapter in the High Court. "Ignoring the Cathedral statutes, they proposed to do away with settings of the Canticles on Sundays. I had no alternative but to fight them, & I am glad to say I had the backing of almost all leading musicians, and a good many dignitaries of the Church, my own bishop among them."
3. An allusion to the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 12:14 "... because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme..".


Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/15, f.90
Cobbe 419
Original database number: