Letter from Michael Kennedy to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
Sunday, Jan 18th, 1953.

3, Moorwood Drive
The Avenue,

Dear Uncle Ralph,

Eslyn and I were both thrilled by “Antartica” and by the warm reception it has been accorded, and we were more than overjoyed to see you again and to have such a delightful  lunch with you and Ursula (if she will allow the familiarity).  I think the symphony is a great work - the wonderfully exciting sounds which you have created and the spirit of heroism which pervades the whole piece make it one of those works of yours which all who love your music will especially treasure.  I want to hear it many times again - by one of those lucky strokes John1 is doing it at Hanley on Feb. 19, my birthday, so I am giving myself a present and going down there to hear it.
Last Wednesday was indeed a day I shall never forget.2 It made me very happy to see and hear the ovation which the Hallé audience gave to you - I was so glad Eslyn could go along again on the Thursday.  We both feel we are getting more and more out of the work with each hearing - and we owe a lot of that to you for letting us follow the score at the rehearsal.  I am looking forward to the publication of the score by the O.U.P.  And it was such a marvellous performance, of course.  I am sure it will go as well again at the Festival Hall on Wednesday - John is so thrilled by the work, and he really understands your music.
I keep hearing bits of “Antartica” in my mind - the Intermezzo I feel I know quite well, and Landscape haunts me: the organ episode in particular.  But the whole thing is so clear and cohesive right from the grand rising of the theme of the Prelude to the last echoes of the Epilogue.  By the way, a small point: the very beautiful oboe tune in the Intermezzo (Oriana's tune) strikes me as idealised and transfigured variation of “The Last Rose of Summer”.  Is that the intention or is it just one of those odd resemblances - in this case an apt one?3
Having since boyhood days loved your music, it is the most exciting and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me to have watched this great new symphony grow at rehearsals and to have had the pleasure of close and friendly contact with its composer on the day it came to fruition.  (How proud Ernest Irving must be of the dedication).  So you know how much I mean it - more than words can convey - when I simply say “thank you” for yet another work to make the sum of life more splendid.
We both think of you often, and send you our love; and to Ursula.  I will write again before long and tell you of our doings and hearings.
With much affection

Michael & Eslyn.

P.S.  One or two good pictures were taken last week and I am trying to get some prints.  So if I succeed I will send you the best.


1. John Barbirolli
2. 14th January, the first performance of Sinfonia Antartica, followed by a second performance the following day and a London première on 21st January.
3. Note.

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