Letter from Ursula Vaughan Williams to Michael and Eslyn Kennedy

Letter No.: 
March 17th [1957]

10 Hanover Terrace

My dears

How wonderful, & just at the moment when I was cooing over blue hyacinths, pink species & tulips chinodoxias, all flowering deliciously together, & then looked at the roses & how they are green with fly.  Bless you for the timely & the perfect. (Incidently, both Ralph & Gil,1 who asked me what I wanted for my birthday, refused with fury & indignation when I said an incinerator!  It seemed such a splendid idea - & is perhaps a measure of all I have, as its all I could think of to want.)
Now I can tell you about the Passion.2 It had that wonderful tension of inspiration all through, & except for the tenor arias, it was superb – Ralph was terrifically lit up, and the chorus sang magnificently – the drama burned, & I thought again how wonderfully Bach understood everything.  The serene & beyond tranquillity of the sacrament – a feeling I expected at confirmation, & found only when I fell in love – (which leads me on to the picture in the Dalai Lama’s room in the Potala, & the anti-suffering feeling I have about the Christian religion – but that’s another conversation) and the utter bleak desolation of  “and sitting down they watched him there” and all the crowd drama.  & the two things going on at once in Behold my Saviour & the sound of the stone rolling into place – its staggering.  Incidentally, if we go to Munich, I’ll send you a picture of the Rembrandt descent from the cross, which is the whole spirit of the St John.
I’m so glad you like Simona’s book.3 I think the key she hasn’t found is the general, as well as particular, application of the quotation in Sancta Civitas.4 She’s masterly about the operas.
I’m having fun doing a libretto for Elizabeth McConchie – who I like, & like working with.5
Ralph says, it is his principle to shorten, or cut da Capos.
We die to know what Martin Cooper said.6 He must be a nasty young man.
Ralph is very well after his Bach orgy.7  We came home & had whisky & ginger ale, quantities of ham, & oranges, after which he slept like a baby, & no ill effects today, just a little sleepy!  I see us going on with this for ever!  I’ll send you a copy of Herbert Byard’s notice from the Advertiser8 when it appears, so you won’t have just a wife’s eye view!
I enclose something we must do something about!  How did you know, incidentally, that it was my birthday?  It was enchanting of you to think of it, & our wedding, & make me glow with pleasure & affection.
Thank you, & love from us both,

P.S. Please send the cutting on to Mary Ann, envelope enclosed.9

1. Sir Gilmour Jenkins.
2. The annual performance of the Bach St John Passion in Dorking.
3. Simona Pakenham, Ralph Vaughan Williams: a discovery of his music, London 1957.
4. On the significance of the quotation from Plato’s Phaedo ch. 114d, which VW prefixed to the score of Sancta Civitas. For his religious beliefs see Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.194.
5. The libretto of Elizabeth Maconchy’s first opera The Sofa was by UVW.
6. Michael Kennedy did not remember what Cooper, a fellow critic on The Daily Telegraph said, but says that though he didn’t care much for VW’s music  he was nice.
7. Presumably the performance of the Bach Passion by the Dorking Bach Choir.
8. The Dorking Advertiser.
9. Mary Ann Arnold Baker.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 159, ff.160-162
General notes: 

Year from postmark.

Original database number: