Letter from Alan Bush to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL3758
December 5th, 1947.

Dear Dr Vaughan Williams,

In reply to your letter about May Charlton, I am most ready to tell you what I know of her in confidence.

Her musical aptitudes showed themselves as a schoolgirl in Nottingham, and she became a pupil for piano of the school music teacher, a remarkably fine musician and personality, Miss Gwen Marchant, who subsequently was appointed Music Adviser to the Council for Art, Music and Drama in Northumberland, which position she occupied until leaving for Canada with her husband, Mr Polwarth, who is a well known B.B.C. Programme Director in the North,

Miss Marchant got May Charlton through her L.R.A.M., and as fas as I am aware, this is the only qualification May Charlton has ever acquired.  May enetered the Royal Academy of Music in September, 1938, and was a pupil of mine for harmony and composition.  She showed undoubted talent.  She had taste and originailty, but no application.  Most unfortunately her parents did not allow her to continue studying in London after the outbreak of war.  I happened to be in Nottingham in the autumn of 1939 and tried to persuade them to permit her to continue, but in vain.  Her parents are very stupid and objectionable people, especially her father, and no doubt some of May's inability to concentrate on any one thing for long can be attributed to the bad results of her home conditions, which are anything but conducive to disciplined concentration.  After the summer term of 1939 May had no further opportunities of studying until after the was was over.  She then returned to London, had, I think, one lesson with me, and one or two piano lessons with my brother-on-law, Micheal Head, who found her a very unsatisfactory pupil, as she was often failing to turn up at lessons without giving notice.  She has lived a very hand to mouth existence for the last three years or so.

I would like to think that her suddenly awakened interest in research, stimulated by Dr Meyer's remarkable book on Engliosh Music, will bring about an improvement in her ability to persevere in any one direction.  And perhaps this may prove to be so.  The best chance for her would be to work for a university degree (if she is eligible to enter for such an examination).  No doubt if she could persevere she would pass such an examination, as she has plenty of brain.  The discipline required would be the very best thing in the world for her.

To conclude to giving a precise answer to your five quesitons:
1) as a composer she has some talent but no technique at all;
2) as a pianist ditto;
3) as a teacher I know nothing of her work;
4) as a musical research worker she is evidently at the moment enthusiastic and enterprising, but she has had no training to my knowledge;
5) as a candidate for Mus. Bac. Lond., she has every chance of passing, provided she perseveres sufficiently.

In conclusion, one must not overlook the fact that May Charlton has remarkable effrontery.  This, coupled with her not inconsiderable personal charms of manner and appearnce, have carried her through (though not without great difficulties at times) up to now.  Her technical knowledge is as yet, however, on such a low level, that these assets, though very valuable, will not suffice to bring her solid success, and probably she is beginning to discover this.  Hence her approach to you, an action which few people in her position would ever contemplate.

If I might venture to make a suggestion, it might very well be worth your while to write to her parents.  A letter from you, to the effect that it would be a good thing to help her to get her exam (that is, to provide her with an allowance for three years), might work, where nothing else would.

I remain,
Yours very sincerely,

P.S.  I have just returned from Poland where I had the great pleasure of introducing your Tallis Fantasia at two concerts.

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Transcribed from a copy of a typescript.

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
Bush