Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Edward J. Dent

Letter No.: 
[Towards end of March 1910]

13 Cheyne Walk

Dear Dent

Thank you very much for yr letter - yes high pitch.1
Elwes will sing 3 songs in his final group (I think that is enough, don't you - the 5tet is 30 minutes, the 4tet about 25, the song cycle 20 & his group about 10 - total 1ho. 25 mins actual music).
The names are

(a) Claribel (1896)
(b) The sky above the roof (1909)
(c) The roadside fire (1904)2

- We've decided on the last not because it's very good but I think that people must have one that they are likely to find bearable.
It's funny how great minds differ - I was tremendously moved by Orpheus3 - & came away thinking it the finest opera in the world - (except the last act which is dull except the trio) and just the kind of opera I shd like to write. I admit the singing was bad - & if you don't like old Mary of course you don't like her & Viola is a gawkish amateur - but I saw what cd be done with opera (for the 1st time) with real rehearsal & an attempt to illustrate every moment in the music - and I thought it was awfully successful - & the dance & staging was wonderful - quite modern of course - but if the music can bear it why not?  & that girl who danced - I had no idea it was possible to express so much emotion by means of the arms & legs - but I do not care for Ballings4 conducting - he distinctly over played it.5


1. i.e. for tuning the piano.
2. Claribel (see Catalogue of Works 1899/C) was published in 1906. "The sky above the roof" (a setting of a translation of Verlaine's poem 'Le ciel est pardessus le toit') was written in 1908, and "The roadside fire" was one of the Songs of Travel written in 1904.
3. VW had been to a production of Gluck's Orfeo in English at the Savoy Theatre staged by the mezzo-soprano Marie Brema. 'Old Mary' was 54 at this time but the production was widely admired.
3. Michael Balling, the German conductor.
4. Presumably the final paragraph is about a negative review by Dent of a performance of the opera.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Dent Archive 1910.6
Cobbe 60
Original database number: