Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Alan Frank

Letter No.: 
4th October, 1950.

The White Gates,
Dorking, Surrey.

Dear Frank,

Müller Hartmann has sent me the enclosed note on my “Partita” which he thinks you may be able to make use of.
As you know the work is dedicated to him.
Yours sincerely,

R Vaughan Williams

(R. Vaughan Williams).

Alan Frank, Esq.,
Oxford University Press,
44, Conduit Street,


R. Vaughan Williams: Partita for Double String Orchestra

Among Vaughan William’s works for strings the Partita ranks as high as his Tallis Fantasia. Whether the polyphonic texture of the Partita has necessitated the scoring for the two sets of strings, or whether the chosen medium has moulded the composer’s thoughts, - the contents and the instrumentation are inseparable.  There are no clear-cut tunes in this music. Its beauty is at once haunting and elusive, and this is perhaps due to the singing character of the themes, and on the other hand to a freedom of rhythm that rejects the conventional formal patterns.  Especially Vaughan Williams’s way of repeating expressive figures from the “wrong” beat mystifies the sense of time. The four movements, Prelude, Scherzo Ostinato, Intermezzo and Fantasia, are not loosely strung together.  They are sections of an organic whole whose structural and atmospheric unity is immediately felt. The principal key is D minor which is significant for the prevailing mood though Vaughan Williams has his individual manner in producing a key-feeling.  Here he does it merely with the first three notes of the scale. They are heard in halting rhythm at the very beginning of the Prelude, and they form also the nucleus of the two following movements. In the Scherzo Ostinato the composer himself seems to be haunted by an idée fixe and to be trying to get rid of it by violent counter strokes which in turn lead to harmonic clashes where bitonality for once makes sense. The Intermezzo has the sub-title “Homage to Henry Hall”.1 So the listener’s fancy may roam for a while; he will probably find it difficult to associate the characteristic pizzicato-accompaniment and the slow and passionate soli for the viola, the violin and the violoncello with the ball-room.  Anyway, this movement also is unmistakably Vaughan Williams, and no concession is made to a lower taste.  The Fantasia is remarkable for its energy, speed and fanatical counterpoint.  It ends quietly.

1. The dance-band leader.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 119E
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.

Original database number: