Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Cecil Sharp

Letter No.: 

Dear Sharp

I can’t get over my shame in not having acknowledged your present1 - & when you have done me the great honour (I mean this) to put my name at the head of it my only reason is (its no excuse) that I thought I had done so - & I suppose my brain was in this sloppy condition because I was working up to 2, 3 & 4 in the morning trying to finish some work.
Its a fine book - I’ve always loved carols - I remember a time when, if I said “carol” it could get no spark out of you - now, as usual you have gone ahead and left me in the lurch.2
A. Introduction - I’m glad you’ve said something about those “village organist” carols because there is something remarkable and quite unlike anything else about them - a tune like “Christians awake”* is a truly national thing  - though it has nothing to do with folk-song.

B. I’ve always noticed what a peculiar atmosphere the major carol tunes have (e.g. II. Bitter withy III. Cherry Tree (1)  VII Holly & Ivy   XI  Come all you worthy   XII Sunny bank (1)) (sons of Levi also fine but a different atmosphere).

C. Other fine modal tunes are Little room (what splendid words), Truth sent from above, 12 Apostles, New Year’s carol.

D. I especially like your accomps to Bitter Withy, Cherry Tree (1), Holly & Ivy, On Xmas night, Come all you worthy, Little room (I intend to crib the opening bar one day3).

It was a good meeting last night4 & Whitings speech conclusively proves their unanimity - for if anything was calculated to put off the waverer it was that - the mayors speech came like a draught of fresh air after it.
I have a message from Mrs Leather5 to say she is teaching her boys some of your carols.
Good luck


P.S.  I am sending you Butterworths songs

* The best specimen of that class

1. English folk-carols, London 1911.
2. Note added here on original: "This is significant MK" - presumably Michael Kennedy.
3. VW used some of the carols mentioned here in Fantasia on Christmas Carols first performed at Hereford in 1912. The work was dedicated to Sharp.
4. Possibly of Committee of the recently formed English Folk Dance Society. The nature of the meeting is not clear.
5. Ella Mary Leather, with whom VW had collected folk songs in Herefordshire earlier in the year. See VWL312.


Location of original letter:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/1, ff. 103-104
Cobbe 76
Original database number: