Letter from Ernest Irving to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL2542
[20th January 1948]

Ealing Studios Limited
Ealing Green
London W 5

Una vox et praeterea nihil.1

I very much regret to state
Your scheme for treating No.8,
Has pulled us up with quite a jerk,
Because we fear it will not work.

Miss Mabel Ritchie’s off-stage tune,
Besides annoying Miss Lejeune,2
Would cover, blur, confuse and fog
Our most expensive dialogue.

Unfriendly Charles3 will cry ‘Aroynt’,
V.W. and his counterpoint,
The public wish to hear, sobs Cole
Why Scott, the ass, pursued the Pole.

Failure they meet, and ruin black,
Who mix two voices on one track;
Choose then a horn or cello which
Have different timbres, weight and pitch.

Your programme would, as you aver,
Astound and shock the chronicler,
But so, I must admit with pain
Did Casca, Crippen, Cromwell, Cain

You would not wish with siren tones
To deafen fans of Odeons
Who, listening to Miss Ritchie’s A,
Would miss what Kathleen4 has to say.

The frequencies her voice employs
Should be kept free from other noise,
Your tune should be of different hue,
And run below, or soar the blue.

Forgive me, Maestro, if I seem
To hold the voice in small esteem
Its use like oboe, trumpet, flute,
Is when the characters are mute.5


1. An adaptation, included in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, of a phrase taken from Plutarch who told that it was used by a Spartan of a nightingale he had just plucked: 'Vox es tu, et nihil praeterea' ('You are a voice and nothing else').
2.  C.A. Lejeune, film critic of The Observer.
3.  Charles Frend, director of Scott of the Antarctic.
4.  Margaret Ritchie sang the soprano part in the film and subsequently in Sinfonia Antartica. Kathleen was Scott's wife.
5. Irving was worried about VW's plan to include a wordless soprano in the music for the film Scott of the Antarctic in case it distracted from actions or speech. In the end it was made to sound so disembodied that there was no difficulty.

Subjects:

General notes: 

Irving was Director of Music at Ealing Studios.
Dated from pencil note on Irving's carbon copy.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 492
Original database number: 
480120