Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Michael Kennedy

Letter No.: 
January 26th 1957.

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

Dear Michael,

I was so glad to get your letter, though I find some of it difficult to answer.1 Your question of who is the greatest man in my life time, is very difficult to say.  I don’t think Churchill, somehow, but a few names, taken at random would include Brahms, Walt Whitman and General Booth.  But it is an almost impossible one to answer  … and of course there is also Sibelius.  It took me some time to get accustomed to his number 6, but I rather believe now that it is his greatest. I am sorry I missed the broadcast.
I have no particular use for Bruckner.  I have never got over the first symphony I heard of his, in which 4 Wagner Tubas played what sounded like old English glees.
I am glad you like my oboe tune.   Evelyn gave a wonderful performance of it.2 We shall be so glad if you can come to hear the John.3 We haven’t been to hear the Britten ballet4 yet – it is rather difficult to find a night – but we intend to.  Our next excitement is the Finzi concert tomorrow. Carol Case is singing a hitherto unheard Hardy cycle by him.5 This seems rather a catalogue, but you ask me so many questions and I enjoy answering them so much.  My love, and three kisses please to Eslyn, but perhaps she is la Belle Dame sans merci, in which case it must be four.6 And all love from us both,


You must read

In a Great Tradition by the Community at Stanbrook

and more exciting, but a good follow - Time out of Mind by Joan Grant

& finally, most exciting of all - The Third Eye, Lobsang Rampa.7

1. Original reads with a typing error: ‘an almost one impossible to answer’.
2. Evelyn Rothwell (Barbirolli) had given a performance of VW’s Concerto for Oboe and Strings (Catalogue of Works 1944/1).
3. VW was to conduct a performance of Bach’s St. John’s Passion at Dorking on 23rd February.
4. The Prince of the Pagodas, which was first given on  1 January at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
5. A concert of works by Gerald Finzi was given on 27th January at the Victoria & Albert Museum by the Chamber Music Society with Eric Greene, John Carol Case, Kathleen Long and Howard Ferguson and the Kalmar Chamber Orchestra conducted by John Russell. The programme contained Richard Mudge’s 4th concerto for strings (edited by Finzi), the first performances of I said to love, a setting by Gerald Finzi of 6 Hardy poems for baritone and piano, and of the Eclogue for piano and strings, and ended with Dies Natalis.
6. Reference to the Keats poem: “... and there I shut her wild wild eyes / with kisses four.”
7. This entire last passage is a postscript from UVW enclosed on a separate sheet of writing paper.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 159, ff.153-155
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.
This letter reprinted in part in Michael Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.388.

Cobbe 707; Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.388
Original database number: