Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Herbert Thompson

Letter No.: 
VWL331
[About September 1910]

13 Cheyne Walk
S.W.

Dear Mr Thompson1

I will tell you all I can.  I think it best to put down any thing that occurs to me and then you can select anything out of it which you want.2
(1) With regard to the name “Symphony” - I use the word because the treatment of the words is symphonic rather than dramatic - that is to say the words are used as a basis on which to build up a decorative musical scheme.  I have therefore felt justified in repeating the words a good deal - especially in the 1st movement.
(2) As regards your enquiry about “significance of tunes” - I can only think of two -
(a) the harmonic progression which starts the work & comes again pp. 6. 47. 49 (letter E). 56. 62 (letter F.) 87. etc
 (b) the phrase
which is part of the opening theme and comes again several times in the 1st & last movements.
These two themes (for no particular reason) seem to suggest the sea to my mind!3
(3) As regards its history - it has been gradually growing in my mind for about 7 years - The sketch was completed in 19074 and revised and scored in 1908 and 9 - When the festival Ctee accepted it last year it had another clean up & finally during the last 6 months I have been revising the full score which meant re-copying most of it.
I don’t know from your letter whether you want my “general” history - but in case you do:
I was born in 1872  General education Charterhouse School & Trinity College Cambridge - musical education R.C.M.5 & also with Charles Wood at Cambridge - also 6 months in Berlin with Max Bruch.
For some years I was organist at a church in South London.
I am sending a copy of the vocal score with a few indications - cd you kindly return it when you have done with it as it is the only one I have.
Yrs vy ty

R. Vaughan Williams

P.S.  The full score is now being copied - otherwise I shd have been delighted to send it you.


1. Music critic working from the late 19th century to the late 1930s; he was for fifty years the music critic for the Yorkshire Post.
2. Thompson had apparently been commissioned to prepare the programme notes for the first performance of A Sea Symphony, Catalogue of Works, 1909/3, which was to take place on 12th October at Leeds Town Hall.
3. See VW’s programme note of 1913 printed in Catalogue of Works, p.53, where he draws attention to the same two themes.
4. In fact it seems that a full score was complete - see VWL139, where he tells Holst that he has finished scoring the second movement of the Ocean, and VWL153, where he reports to Wedgwood that his ‘magnum opus’ is really finished.
5. Royal College of Music.

Subjects:

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS. 361/326/1-2

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/4, ff.41-44
General notes: 

Date from context.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 64; Lewis Foreman, From Parry to Britten: British music in letters 1900-1945, no.36 (pp 41-42).
Original database number: 
1009xa