Letter from Ernest Irving to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL2618
Thurs 22/1/53

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

My Dear Ralph V.W.

What a grand night, and a triumph for you. The long sustained and thoroughly sincere applause must have warmed the cockles of your heart - it certainly did mine.
At the risk of being a bore I must thank you most sincerely for giving me the great honour of the dedication which has tagged me A.1 at Lloyd’s in a way nothing else could have done. And to stagger up to the little party after all the excitement and exertion was just another act of that great big generous heart that is in you. I am very proud indeed to be remembered in association with a noble work.
Perhaps you would like a few observations on the Sinfonia.1
First you have scaled down the main subject, starting it  p. I take it your object was to present to the ear a sad unpeopled waste instead of a glacier-climbing energumen, and if so this is achieved in the symphonic version [The trumpet was no Harold Jackson!].
The choir, I think, has too many voices; 3 on each line would be enough and much more flexible than 30, and they should be all contraltos (singing in their upper register). The wind machine was badly played. It should be geared, so that the player can increase its speed suddenly, so that it whistles - now it only rattles.

It is a small matter, but has caused much talk. The effect could be got by 3 men whistling in parts:

 etc,
but I suppose that would be too “jazzy” for the critics.
I thought the whole of that episode was held too rigidly on the beat; and that Margaret was tethered.2 Still she sang magnificently. The rest of it I thought was very well played indeed, except that the Cymbals always come in a shade before the beat (megalomania?). You said you wanted the organ to make a nasty noise and I thought it unpleasant enough, but with insufficient 32 ft tone. The great climax was most moving, and in a metaphysical way rather than in descriptive one.
I can now answer the question you asked some months ago, to which I could not then reply, having been too deeply immersed in the film music.-
-The music conceived on the basis of the wars and the epic does stand the test of transmutation to the concert platform. The Sinfonia is a noble work in its own right, full of musical skill and orchestral virtuosity. It is fully worthy of your genius and only lower in standard than the fifth in that it tends to describe things as well as thoughts. But who would compare Homer disadvantageously with Wordsworth? Only, I think, the people who did not understand either.
I hear Mrs Wood led you off to continue your ‘Tam o’Shanter’s ride’ to a party:- I hope you survived and feel pretty sure you did.
I expect you get all your press-cuttings, but if not, I have a pretty full collection and should be pleased to send them to you.
With grateful and affectionate regards,
Yours ever

Ernest I.


1. The first performance of the Sinfonia Antartica, dedicated to Irving.
2. Margaret Ritchie was the soprano soloist.

Location of copy:

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
530122a