Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Edward J. Dent

Letter No.: 
April 30 [1951]

The White Gates

Dear Dent

I was much moved by your letter.1 You know how I value your judgement & to have your approval is something I am very proud of.
I agree with you how all taking part seemed to “dedicate” themselves to a work2 which containing as it does none of the ordinary ingredients of opera must have been disconcerting. Nevertheless I believe that it is 1st & foremost a stage piece & do not want it (at all events yet) delegated to the cathedral - If it once gets there it will never get back to the stage & will be put in the same semi-amateur category as  “Everyman” & “Eager hart”.3
Now as you have shown a friendly interest in the work may I ask your advice on one or two points
(1) Is ‘Vanity Fair’ too short (I don’t usually wish to lengthen my own works!) but I had a feeling that it was over before the audience had time to find out what it was all about.4
(2) The Fight with Apollyon was quite unsatisfactory - the truth is that the producer came to the conclusion that my scheme (see libretto) would not work & at the last minute we had to patch up a “pis aller” (incuding sacrifice of near ½ the music).
I still believe that my original scheme wd work - if not then we must scrap it & do something quite new (it’s no good patching). I am sending you a libretto in case you have time to look at it.5

R. Vaughan Williams

1. Of 27 April; see VWL2217. Responses from Dent to this letter were sent on 2nd and 6th May are printed in Catalogue of Works (p.209 ff). A further letter to Dent from VW (printed by Kennedy on p.216) does not survive in the Dent archive at King's College, Cambridge.
2. Pilgrim's Progress, first performed at Covent Garden on 26th April 1951.
3. Everyman, the 16th century morality play.  Eager Heart is a Christmas mystery play by Alice Buckton.
4. The scene was lengthened for the performances from February 1952 with the addition of a song for Lord Lechery and the quartet of witnesses to words by Ursula Wood. See Catalogue of Works, 1951/1.
5. Dent replied at length - see VWL2223.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Dent Archive undated
Cobbe 555
Original database number: