Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Derek G. Smith

Letter No.: 
20th October, 1948.

The White Gates,

Dear Mr. Smith,

I was interested in your letter1. I fear that your search for English music of the type of lullabies or laments or instrumental pieces would be difficult. Folk music, as I daresay you know, is always applied music, either a tune to fit the words of a song or the steps of a dance.
The songs, according to their nature, are accordingly sometimes sad and romantic but the dance tunes are nearly always energetic and lively, and we occasionally find slow and romantic song tunes such as “Newcastle”, “Greensleeves” and a carol tune, the name of which I forget2, converted into dance tunes by livening up the rhythm.
You tell me that you are interested in the structure of the folk tune. I gather from your letter that you have already read Cecil Sharp's “English Folk Song, Some Conclusions”. I am also sending you a little pamphlet on the same subject which I wrote some years ago. I would also advise you to read the opening chapters of Hubert Parry's “Evolution of the Art of Music”.2
I fear the local branch of the E.F.D.S.3would not be much use to you. They seem to be entirely occupied organising dance parties, but you might write for advice to the Librarian at Headquarters:
Miss Dean-Smith,4
Cecil Sharp House,
London, N.W.1.

I am glad to hear that you are progressing with your composing. I feel sure the study of our own folk music forms a very sound basis on which to build.
Here are the names of one or two song tunes of the more romantic kind, which you may not know:
“Sheep Shearing” both from Cecil Sharp's
“The Cuckoo” collection

“My Bonny Boy” from “English County
“Lazarus” Songs”

“She's Like a Swallow” from “Folk Songs from

Yours sincerely,

R. Vaughan Williams

Derek G. Smith, Esq.,
39, Newlyn Drive,
Western Boulevard,

1.  Smith had written asking for information about English folk music.
2.  A second edition of Sharp's book had been published in 1936. VW's pamphlet English Folk-Songs, the text of a lecture, had been published in 1912, and a tenth edition of C.H.H. Parry's book had been published in 1931.
3. English Folk Dance Society.
4. Margaret Dean-Smith, described by UVW as very formidable, with an encyclopedic memory for her subject.


Location of original letter:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/17, ff. 168-169
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.

Cobbe 504
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