Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Laurence Taylor

Letter No.: 
October 2nd 1955

From R. Vaughan Williams,
10, Hanover Terrace,
Regents Park,
London, N.W.1.

Dear Mr Taylor1

My advice to you is as follows: - and I think it is the advice which would be given by any composer, whether they are bi-tonal, poly-tonal, or any other kind of tonal:-
You will not be wasting your time if, for a time you neglect free composition and make a thorough study of strict counterpoint, classical harmony, fugue and strict sonata form. You will then be fully equipped, your tools will be sharp and of tempered steel, ready for whatever use you wish to put them to.
I am glad you approve of the alteration of the last note in the slow movement of my number four. I had long felt that the original last note was wrong, and I fear I must confess, that I behaved like the lady in the Lost Chord, and tried out every possible note till I hit on the right one.
If you want to study books I suggest those written by R.O. Morris, Sixteenth Century Counterpoint – this of course is not a text book, but a treatise – published by Macmillan, but you will found2 excellent text books on harmony, counterpoint and form by him and H.K. Andrews published by Oxford University Press. There is a tendency at present to dispise3 Cherubini; I entirely disagree, I think every composer ought to go right through him.
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

1. A young American composition student who had written to VW asking for guidance and encouragement. He gives an account of the circumstances of this letter and of a visit to the VWs in August 1958, a week before the composer’s death, in ‘RVW remembered: an afternoon with Ralph Vaughan Williams’, Journal of the RVW Society, xv (June 1999), p.7.
2. sic.
3. sic.

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Typewritten, signed.

Cobbe 657
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