Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Arthur Butterworth

Letter No.: 
VWL3002
25th May, 1949

The White Gates,
 Dorking.

Dear Mr Butterworth

Thank you very much for your letter. Your name means much to me because one of my greatest friends was George Butterworth, the composer.  If you become as good a composer as him you will indeed do well.
I am glad to think that my music means something to you. If it did not mean anything to anybody why, indeed, write at all.
You say that the influence of certain composers on you changes as you get older. This is a natural element of development. If you did not change your opinions with more experience you would indeed be in a bad rut, and if your opinion of me changes with the course of years, as I daresay it will, you must not mind or think anything about “disloyalty”. It only means that you are moving on to something better. I, myself, when I was quite young was an intense admirer of the music of Hubert Parry, but now that I am old, though I admire a great deal of his work very much, I no longer swallow him whole and can see obvious faults and weaknesses which I did not see when I was young.
On the other hand, do not be frightened by being influenced by other composers when you are young. Think of Brahms and Schumann, of Wagner and Weber and of Sibelius and Tschaikovsky. Indeed Sibelius’ First Symphony was described by some humorist as the best symphony Tschaikovsky ever wrote. Again, this is a necessary part of development. I think it was Emerson who said that the most original genius was the most indebted man.
You say that you want to be a conductor and composer. Well nothing can be better training for both of these than to be an orchestral player, so do not leave that before you feel that you have got all you can out of it. I always wish I had been an orchestral player myself. I am sure it would have taught me a lot.
All that you say about my work only makes me wish it was better.
I was much interested in your idea for trumpet part in my “Pastoral Symphony”. I shall certainly keep your letter and make a note of your suggestion. I am afraid that at present trumpeters use their ordinary trumpets, and one of them confessed to me that he “faked” the natural B flat and D by playing them a little bit flat or a little bit sharp as the case might be.
You may be interested to know how the idea of using those notes came to my mind. When I was in the army in the first war I was stationed at Bordon and every morning in the woods about half a mile off I used to hear a young trumpeter practising – and he was always (by accident of course) landing on that natural B flat, which as you know is not a recognised note in military trumpet calls; but the note fascinated me.  As to the D, which as you know is slightly sharp in the tempered scale, it comes in the Trumpet Reveille and the notes C, D and E in the true scale have an extraordinary exhilarating effect which you do not get in the tempered scale.
At the first performance the trumpet part was played by Herbert Barr on his own trumpet and we could not find an E flat-pitched trumpet, but after the last rehearsal Mr Barr was passing a second-hand shop and he actually saw a natural E flat trumpet and he bought it for £5 and played on it that very evening.  I afterwards bought it from him but unfortunately it was blitzed in the war.
If ever you come south let me know. I should like to see some of your work.
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
ABW/2/6.
Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 521
Original database number: 
490525