Letter from Gerald Finzi to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
[5 November 1945]

Dear Uncle Ralph

You wondered - I suppose truthfully - whether ‘the Shepherds’ section of P.P.1 fitted in with the style of the rest. Certainly, so far as the text is concerned there’s not the slightest lack of unity. (As far as I can see the Shepherds remains exactly the same, apart from a small thing like the division of the 91st Psalm between three shepherds instead of one, and of course, the cutting off of the end & the transference to scene three.) It seems a splendid libretto, though I’m not experienced enough to judge & in any case I don’t see how, in opera, the text can be divorced from the music. Had I seen that dreary text of Peter Grimes - which out Wardours Wardour Street - without hearing the music, I shdn’t have thought so alive an opera was possible. Similarly the text of the Shepherds, which is in most lovely conversational prose, gives no idea of the contrasts in music which you have been able to extract out of it, things like the vigorous and rhythmical music of ‘Fain would I be where I shall die’. So, reading the text one finds it a bit difficult to spot those points of contrast within the lengthier quiet scenes, such as the House Beautiful.
I find the black-outs in your prize-fight a bit difficult to grasp & cant for the life of me see why a good straight-forward fight, without tableaux & blackouts isn’t possible (and more effective) between the Pilgrim & Apollyon’s shadow. Vanity Fair should be most exciting & re-reading the original P.P. I marvel at the way you’ve dealt with it. After that scene I found Mister & Madam By-ends rather an anti-climax, for they neither hinder the journey nor give a point of rest, which the opening of the scene does. That’s the only bit that I shouldn’t miss. In any case when you have got them off the stage we are left exactly where we were before they came on the scene, with the shepherd boy pointing to the Delectable Mountains. So I can’t see that Mr and Mrs By Ends have helped the action forward in any way, whereas the shepherd boy section does.
Now comes the point where you may turn on me, like Apollyon! The Epilogue. I can only say that if the end of Act IV is as lovely as it is in the original Shepherds, then Bunyan’s appearance is a barbarous intrusion! Something of the same effect if, after the end of ‘Neptune’, you heard ‘chocolates and cigarettes’. Of course the idea of a framework is clear enough, but I can’t really see that we want Bunyan back, however homespun he is after we have seen the arrival of the Pilgrim and heard the Alleluias & the trumpet.
I do hope better judges have felt the same.2

1.   i.e. Pilgrim’s Progress.
2.  For VW's reply of three days later see VWL2015.


General notes: 

Transcribed in Joy Finzi’s Journal.

Original database number: