Foreword from Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Society for the Promotion of New Music

Letter No.: 
VWL2950
[About March 1954]

Foreword1

by

DR. RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, O.M.

How are we to find the diamond hidden in the dunghill?  Only by trial and error; and as the heroine of A. P. Herbert's novel said about her amorous entanglements, “The more the trial the less the error.”2
This is the principle which the S.P.N.M. has adopted.  Every work which, at all events, makes sense (and, it is whispered, even some which to the ordinary ear did not make sense) is set down for performance, and so far as time and funds allow, is put to the supreme test of a hearing.
The pundits may tell us that they can judge a work by the eye only.  This is not true.  They may be able to see that the orchestration is competent, that the form is logical, and can see whether a harmony obeys or (according to the temperament of the beholders) disobeys the text-books' rules, but no one can tell whether the essential and elusive spark of inspiration is present without actually hearing the work.
If you come to our experimental rehearsals expecting to find a masterpiece you will be disappointed.  That is not our object.  Our motto, in plain language, is “Let 'em all come,” and your duty as audience is to spot the winner.
On the whole we have been lucky and the proportion of the diamonds has been surprisingly big.  We beg all those who are interested in music to come to our recitals remembering Bach, Beethoven and Wagner were once beginners and had to face the verdict of an audience to whom their work was entirely new.  Especially we appeal to those omniscient supermen who can stroll into a concert room and pronounce judgment, and not only pronounce, but print it, on a new and difficult work without turning a hair.  We shall be grateful for their praise, but equally we shall appreciate their blame.
Finally, we owe thanks to all those artists who have helped us for the minimum of material reward, and we thank also those public bodies and individuals who, by their donations, have made all this possible.


1. The Society for the Promotion of New Music produced a brochure in [1954] introducing its aims and objects, setting out the composers and works supported by the the Society over the previous ten years since its foundation. VW, as President since its foundation, provided a foreword. He also wrote to Alan Frank in March 1954 asking him to sponsor a SPNM concert.
2. The heroine of three novels based on a column in Punch by A.P. Herbert from 1928; the novels were combined and published in 1949 as The Topsy Omnibus. This quote from the book was probably intended as a discreet tribute to the energtic secretary of the SPNM, Topsy Levan. 

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
uvw
Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 627
Original database number: 
5403xb