Note on Cecil Sharp's accompaniments of folk songs

Letter No.: 
VWL3614
[ca 1935]

Note on Sharp’s accompaniments.

That Sharp was a creative artist his accompaniments clearly show.  His creative impulse came from the tune he was setting.  That is why his settings are usually better than many by more technically gifted arrangers, because they come to the task as composers and let the suggestions started by the tune run away with them so that they forget the tune.  [This is especially bad when the arranger deliberately sets out “to make something of” the tune – as I should think H. Brockway does and certainly C. Scott and Goossens do.]    In all the best of Sharp’s accompaniments the tune counts and the arrangement falls into its proper background.  In some cases his accompaniments look wrong and sometimes even when played by themselves seem awkward, but they stand the important test, that they make the tune sound right.  It is true that Sharp had little of the conventional technique of pfts. accompaniment as taught by professors of composition, but he developed a technique of his own whose complete success was only hindered, I think, by his fear of the harmony professor.  He was so anxious for the songs to get known that he sometimes did not venture to produce an accompaniment which would be considered not correct.  And as he was not able to assimilate this “correct” style his accompaniments sometimes seem to halt between two opinions.  If he had let himself go regardless of this more of his work might have been up to his best standard, but it might not have gone through so easily with the Board of Education.
Occasional and only occasionally his accompaniments seem to be bad.   When this is so I put it down to the fact that he was so anxious for the young men to sing the songs that he feared to provide an accompaniment which was beyond the mental and technical equipment of their girl friends.  As examples of the first-rate accompaniments I suggest “The Cuckoo”, “the drowned Lover”, “The Water is Wide” and the Morris tune, “Leap Frog” (Field Town) and “Jenny Pluck Pears”.  Of the second class, not entirely satisfactory for reasons I have given, “Searching for Lambs” and “A Rosebud in June”.  Among those I presume to condemn are: - “The Trees they do grow high” and “Sellenger’s Round”.  But in nine cases out of ten the total result when hears [sic] is satisfying and beautiful and this is after al the only valid test.
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Will you send this on to Maud as I want her to read my ideas as well.
Yrs
R.W.V.

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Various 3 (box 6 folder B)

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Typewritten.

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