Letter from Ernest Irving to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL2497
16th December, 1947.

Dear V.W.,

If all the world did not know you as our greatest living master, and all your friends as a benign and warm-hearted man, I should misjudge your letter as satirical. I have just got home from a long and tiring recording session at Denham, but I feel I must answer it before going to sleep.
It is charming of you to find time for a holograph letter in clear script that makes the accompanying scores look like cuneiform, and I am most sensible of the honour you do me in seeking my opinion. First of all, Mrs. Vaughan Williams is quite right - it is those personal qualities which you humourously say you have tried to cure (!) that endear you to many thousands who love your music.
You refer to your fifth symphony, - a glorious work full of golden fire - as “unclear”. but it is such music as kindles the soul of the listener and makes even the man of little faith ponder and wonder. Thank heaven you haven’t been able to find a ‘cure’; you might have turned into a robot like Schoenberg.
The winter of your discontent seems to be due to two causes.
(a) the disclocation and subordination of the music to the “real noises” and dialogue of the film.

(b) The discrepancy between the sound you heard vis-à-vis the orchestra and the sound that proceeds from the track.

Regarding (a) I have put your views with my strong support to Mr. Balcon and the directors and have done a bit of lobbying also. They would be delighted if you would come and talk it all over.
Your idea for an orchestral ‘prelude’ is a daring novelty, and film directors are mortally afraid of anything new, but I have enlisted support in an unexpected quarter, - from the publicity director, and we may bring it off, though I fancy it will not be over penguins or icebergs but with a black (blank) film.
When can you come? I am recording 16th., 18th., 19th., 20th., and 23rd. Could you manage the 22nd. - or is it too close to Christmas?
(b) Music does not, and cannot sound the same when recorded as when played in a hall. In film recording especially, the microphones have a tendency to ‘bulge’ the tone on middle frequencies    to    1 and thus to magnify horns and high trombones. If you will forgive a little technicality the tutti of a symphony orchestra reaches 90 decibels in intensity, and it is not possible to get more than 50 on the film, hence there is a great deal of jostling among the timbres with consequent distortion and faulty balance.
It is however quite possible, and easy to make any tune prominent, though not by doubling in the unison as one would in a concert piece. If you indicate the depth of the relief you require I can guarantee you will hear it.
Our recordings on 23rd (H.M.V.), and 29th. (Denham) are Leslie Bridgewater’s music - all class II, but very opposite2 and effective. Bridgewater by the way is coming to the symphony rehearsal (with my ticket). Most of it I have scored for him. Alan Rawsthorne is not as good an orchestrator as he is a composer; his scores are dull and lacking in variety. Georges Auric has written some film music for us which comes off tremendously - I could send you some scores of his if you would like to see them.
I have only had time to glance at the sketches you send - they look fine to me. I was amused at your variation of the “Golden Vanitie”. I shall consider it a high privilege to advise on any scores you send, and shall consider nothing too much trouble, but you’ll have to tell me the tunes you want to hear, and as you have discovered, where there is dialogue the music goes West. I have written this in longhand, but shall have it typed out of consideration of your eyesight.
A merry Christmas, if I don’t see you before then.
With kindest regards.
Yours ever

Ernest Irving


1.  Left blank in the carbon, presumably added to the top copy by hand. Irving is possibly referring to the frequencies between 250 and 450 cycles, as in 480210.
2.  ?apposite

General notes: 

Carbon copy.

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
471216