Letter from Neville Cardus to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL2637
February 2nd 1953

National Liberal Club,
Whitehall Place, S.W.1

My dear Dr Vaughan Williams,

Many thanks for your letter; it is extremely kind of you to write to me.  I don’t live in Manchester nowadays, so I can’t say anything about the rumour you say is going around there about the scoring of your symphony.  Anyhow, it’s the silliest rumour and not worth attention.  Every note of your scoring is touched with your nature and temperament ... it has been “subdued” like the dyer’s hand, to what it has worked in.1
No: it isn’t true that I am at all “allergic” to your music.  On the contrary.  Let me give you an example.  When I was in Australia, records of your Fifth symphony arrived, with no notes about the work, no information: just the title, the number, the key.  I played the records over the air in one of my weekly broadcasts on music for the Australian National Radio.  And I said: “The music seems to me as though inspired by the faith and gentle austerity of Bunyan ... in the closing pages of the Finale the Alleluia strains create an elevation of mind and sense of a shining light coming from a distance - ideas and emotions familiar to anybody who has read Bunyan at all “who would true valour see, let him come hither ...”
I did not know as I wrote and spoke all this, that you had ever thought of Bunyan, ever read him.  As I say, I knew nothing more of the Fifth symphony then than that it had come to Australia on a set of records bearing merely the number and key-signature.  Isn’t this a reasonable proof of how perfectly the symphony enshrines a spiritual essence?2  And it’s proof, I hope, that I am far from “allergic” to your music.  Please excuse the length of this letter.
Yours sincerely

Neville Cardus


1. This letter apparently in response to VWL3973. The rumour was about Roy Douglas’s role in scoring the symphony; Michael Kennedy discusses VW’s own doubts about the scoring in Works of Vaughan Williams pp.319-320. Cardus’s notice of the first London performance in the Manchester Guardian is quoted in part in Works of Vaughan Williams p.324. ‘For sheer brilliance, vividness and spontaneity in the moulding and releasing of tone, in a swift imaginative blending of instrumental colours, everything serving the composer’s inner vision, Vaughan Williams has never equalled this latest of his scores.’
2. Cardus is alluding to the connexions between the Fifth Symphony and the music for The Pilgrim’s Progress, which were well-known.

Location of original letter:

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
530202b