Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Herbert Byard

Letter No.: 
VWL2982
6th April, 1949.

The White Gates,
Dorking,

Dear Mr. Byard,

Many thanks for your second letter.  There is only one point I want to answer - that is the question of the pianoforte going on all through the solos.

If Bach wanted that why did he have strings occasionally and then drop them at certain moments, unless he meant the key-board to take it up there?  Also I feel that the pianoforte continuo right through would sound very monotonous, and of course the harpsichord would sound unbearable.

I was very much interested in all your quotations which I did not know.  I wish you would write an article for "Music & Letters" about filling in continuo.

You say your pupils often ask you how they can best give Bach exactly as he meant it.  The answer, to my mind, is in the famous words of "Punch" - "don't".  We want to give Bach and every other composer as the music appeals to us at the moment.  As you say, the tone of all instruments and the conditions being so different, we cannot give it as Bach meant it, even if we wanted to.  The question is whether he will bear transference to modern conditions.  A great many of the eighteenth century composers will not bear the transposition and therefore had better be left alone; but Bach obviously can.

Yours sincerely
R. Vaughan Williams
(R. Vaughan Williams).

H. Byard, Esq.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/2/5, f.8

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 162, f.8
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 519
Original database number: 
490406a