Oxford University Press file note on Ralph Vaughan Williams's English version of Bach's B minor Mass by Norman Peterkin

Letter No.: 
VWL2020
20.11.45

Vaughan Williams came to discuss his Bach B minor mass scheme1 with NP. Foss’ report of Oct 29th was read out to him & a copy given him to take away & consider.  I also passed to him Foss’s personal list of music suggestions.
Vaughan Williams realised, probably for the first time, the magnitude of his scheme, especially when NP told him that a moderate edition of the vocal score, chorus parts, orchestral score &parts would probably cost anything from £2000 upward. He was astounded & had thought £400 or so would cover the cost which he was prepared to meet himself. NP made it clear that quite apart from the question of the expense involved we simply could not tackle the project because of the lack of paper & the acute manufacturing difficulties involved - As Foss advised in his report, there is not a printer in England who would undertake the job in the conditions now prevailing.  This applies even if V.W. ignored the larger implications as to a definitive English edition & wanted it produced for the Leith Hill Festival only. V.W. seemed greatly impressed with Foss’s views, even tho he disagrees in some directions, & accepted the position that we can’t do anything with the scheme.  He says he will probably collect a number of copies of the Novello Ed. of the B mi Mass from friends & choral societies, & get his friend Miss Gritton to underlay his English text to the music so that material will be provided for a performance by his Leith Hill people. On the large question of a definitive edition of the Mass, working with a committee, he absolutely refuses to consider any such co-operation. His edition is the work of a very long period, & he says it is as he wants it for his purposes, & he is not in the least prepared to alter or revise to suit the view of any committee.  He adds that in any case any such committee would never reach any unanimous view about what the edition should be. NP thereupon told him that naturally as far as V.W.’s own version is concerned, the question of any co-operation or working to produce it with a committee would be abandoned, as VW was against it.
Vaughan Williams also has some curious idea that he does not want his edition of the Mass, if ever it reaches print, to be copyright. He wants it to be free to everybody etc.  Yet at the same time he is scared that if Novello’s heard of his idea of the Mass using the English Church Services they would steal the idea & rush out the edition themselves!!! NP told him he felt there was not the slightest chance of Novello’s doing any such thing. In any case it is far too big a thing for any publisher to embark on in the present conditions & it will be years before it is practical & economic to consider any further edition of the Mass.2


1.  See VWL1857.
2.   VW’s version of Bach’s B minor Mass was eventually performed  at the Leith Hill Music Festival on 18th April 1947. See VWL2170.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 119W
Format: 
Other
Citation: 
Cobbe 452
Original database number: 
451120