Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Alan Frank (OUP)

Letter No.: 
VWL2562
31st December, 1952.

The White Gates,
Dorking,
Surrey.

Dear Frank1

I think we will stick to “Antarctica”, even if it is bad Italian. It ought to be good and it is their fault if it is not. I named it “Sinfonia” on the lines of the “Sinfonia Domestica”,2  though I hope the work has no other likeness to that!3
Thank you so much for sending the score up to Manchester. That is by far the best plan. I shall be at the Grand Hotel. I think it had better be sent there.
As regards your second query. I cannot quite remember when the idea of making the music into a Symphony occurred to me. Almost always when I write film music I have an ulterior idea of a concert version in my own mind. I remember Ernest Irving once saying to me, “You composers always write with one eye on the concert room” and I said to him, “I will tell you why - because in the concert room we are pretty sure we shall not have half the music cut out and the rest inaudible.”4

Could you pass an order on from me for your sales dept to send all the P.P.5 songs to Keith Falkner - for me of  course
address Keith Falkner
             Music Department
             Cornell University
             Ithaca, N.Y.  U.S.A.

R. Vaughan Williams

[extract from this letter, filed separately]:
Which reminds me.  I made a Suite out of my “Flemish Farm” music, which to my mind contains some of the best music I have ever written.  I do not think it has had more than one performance.  I feel sure that if I had called it “Sinfonia Flamenca” it would have had as much success as my No. 6.


1. Music Editor in succession to Norman Peterkin (1947); Head of Music from 1954 until his retirement in 1975.
2. By Richard Strauss.
3. Frank had written on 23rd December saying that ‘the pundits at the Radio Times say, and I feel they are probably right, that Sinfonia Antarctica is no known language! ‘Sinfonia’ is Italian and ‘Antarctica’ is Latin, the Italian being ‘Antartica’ without the ‘c’: while the Latin for Symphony is ‘Symphonia’. I said I thought you would probably stick to the present title, but promised to put it to you. It doesn’t worry me either way’. Despite VW’s dismissal of the suggestion here, he was quickly persuaded to approve the change and on 6th January 1953 Frank sent a message to the New York office with the instruction  that the title was now spelt Antartica with one ‘c’.
4. Frank had asked in his letter: ‘While I am writing to you, may I ask one small question out of personal interest: was it before, during, or after composition of the film score for Scott that you conceived the idea of this Symphony? I imagine that it was during it, but I really don’t know’.
5. Seven Songs from “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Catalogue of Works 1951/1a).

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 2008F and File 2008B
General notes: 

Typewritten with manuscript annotations.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 597
Original database number: 
521231c