Letter from Ernest Irving to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL2375
7th March, 1952

Ernest Irving
4, The Lawn,
Ealing Green, W.5.

Dear V-W

The score of “Antarctica” arrived this morning.1 I have had, you may be sure, an exciting time reading it through. It will take, of course, some days to digest it but at first reading it gives an unmistakable impression of power, magnitude and colour. The tunes seem to me to stand up nobly to their new symphonic responsibilities, including the penguins!!
I am afraid the Intermezzo will become popular.
I am certain John Barbirolli will be delighted with it, and revel in rehearsing and conducting it. Its epic style and colourful illustration will suit him down to the ground — or I should say, down to the ice-floe. It is the first time that film music has been really raised to the loftier level of symphonic poetry, and it will be the first Symphony ever written that schoolchildren will enjoy as much as their elders.
I am really too excited to write any more, so will close with respect and affection.

Later, 4p.m.   I have read the score through again and though I naturally find it difficult to dissociate the music from the visuals of the film I feel confident that the music can stand by itself. One must remember that it was inspired by actual history and composed before the film was made and though it was applied ad hoc it possesses I think sufficient character and individuality to put it in the first rank.
It is not easy to compare it with VI because it is impressionistic and even descriptive, whereas VI was absolute and metaphysical. It has more unity of style with the Pastoral, which by the way, I am trying to get into the Phil2 programme for next season. I expect there will be a few half-blind critics who will imagine nothing good can come out of the Kinema but its strength, forthright style and simplicity of outline will I am sure find recognition from the great body of music-lovers, including naturally
Yours ever

Ernest Irving

P.S. Will write again later.


1. The Symphony was dedicated to Irving and was clearly newly completed. Its first performance was in Manchester on 14th January 1953, given by the Hallé orchestra under John Barbirolli.
2. i.e. the Royal Philharmonic Society, which gave the first London performance on 21 January 1953 with the same forces.

Location of copy:

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 576
Original database number: 
520307