Letter from Percy Grainger to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL3005
May 29, 1949

From Percy Grainger
7 Cromwell Place
White Plains, N.Y., USA

Dear Vaughan Williams,

Soon after my wife and I had the happiness of visiting you at Dorking, I got Schott & Co, London to send me the scores of your F minor, D major & E minor Symphonies (to Sweden) & since returning to White Plains have got the recordings of the first two of these. It has been an enlightening experience to supplement by these means the overwhelming impression I had in hearing these works played while in England.
The thing that strikes me most is your feat of replacing the themes & motivs of the conventional symphony by tonal lines of real melodiousness & your ability to spread that melodiousness over the entire texture - high, middle, low. It seems to me that all of us who turned to folksong did so partly because we wished to reinvest music with unimpaired melodiousness - with something of that self-sufficient melodiousness (melody that carries a complete message in its own tone-line & is not unduly subservient to harmony or rhythm) that we find in Gregorian Chant, in folksong, in Javanese music & the like. But to be able to apply this new born melodiousness to the symphonic medium was a gigantic task, a task that your genius alone has been able to compass. The results seem to me not only soul-satisfying in themselves, but to have accomplished a betterment of the art of music itself - to have shown the way to a more pure, rich & complete tradition of music in which pristine melody leads the way. It seems to me as if the far-reaching importance of this achievement cannot be overrated.
I am amazed at the originalities you evolve in the fugal passages in the slow movement of the F minor Symphony - such very LOVELY originalities. I mean between letter 3 and 8 and between 12 and 13. I am particularly fond of the 2 bars preceding 6 and of the following bars:
[writes out 2 sets of 2 bars - check which]1
These things sound so magical on the woodwind instruments - a kind of beauty NEVER BEFORE imagined in music! Also, I am very moved by the wonderful drama you unfold between major and minor thirds and the like: in the Preludio of the D maj. Symphony between the beginning and 2, between 2 and 3, 9 bars before 15, the last 14 bars of the movement; also the 4 bars before 7; the magical transition at 13 in the slow movement of the F minor. The 3 chords that open the last movement of the F minor & the haunting theme at 2 in the same movement seem to me to be rooted in the same line of vital intervallic thinking.
All these things are drenched in such unmistakable GREATNESS. And I am thankful to say that I consider that this impression of TRUE GREATNESS, of transcending genius, has been captured in the 2 color-photos that you so graciously and generously allowed Tunbridges to take of you for me (for my museum). I myself think these 2 photos real masterpieces as a record of a man of genius & we want you to see them for yourself. So I have asked Tunbridges to send you a print of the front-face photo and my wife is sending Mrs Vaughan Williams a New York print of the side-face photo. By the way, if the London Central Music Library would like to have a set of the Tunbridge color photos of British composers, would you permit these 2 of you to be included? The Tunbridge color photos of you strike me as splendid as artistic photos; on the other hand, they are NOT a clear record of eye-color - the lighting having been placed too high (throwing the eyes into shadow, or something).2 So the next time I come to England I will try & bring a close-up color-camera with me & ask you if you will be kind enough to let me take a close-up photo out of doors.
With thankful greetings to you both,
Ever yours admiringly

Percy Grainger


1.  make file of music examples.
2.  According to UVW Grainger had a somewhat racist theory that all good composers had blue or grey eyes.

Subjects:

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
490529