Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Lucy Broadwood

Letter No.: 
VWL386
[22 January 1913]

Dear Miss Broadwood

I bought Moffatt and Kidson’s book at your bidding1- I am afraid I am not very enthusiastic about it.  There are some good tunes in it - but most of those I know already - the others, most of them, do not strike me much - but perhaps this is owing to the arrangements, which in most cases seem to me entirely inadequate (but more of this later).  It seems to me that Moffatt has no feeling for the folk-dances - he is much better at the minuets and gavottes (except of course the appalling arrangement of a minuet “11th of September”). Also I don’t think Kidson (if he made the selection) has an ear for a good tune but probably thinks that every thing which appears in an old printed book is good.
It is a pity that he has so often chosen neither the earliest printed nor (this is more important) the finest version of a tune.
e.g. A la mode de France of which there is a much finer version in Playford in the minor (1650 edition) 
Staines Morris2 (see Playford 1650). 
Ten Pound Lass (of which there is a slightly better version in Playford 1650).  This version is apparently “early 18th century”. 
Amaryllis (“17th century”) This may be an earlier version than Playford (1670) but is certainly not so good.
Goddesses (1650) see Playford’s version same date
Dull Sir John (see Playford 1650)

Of course I can only speak of the ones I happen to know from the reprints, which you of course know, in Sharp’s “Country Dances”3 - but it makes one wonder about the whole collection.
I have just been reading your letter again as I see you speak of “composed” originals which have been lately collected as folk-stuff.
-  I have looked through carefully & have found  none yet - with the possible exception of “Princes Royal” (surely Kidson doesn’t think that because he finds a tune printed in an old book it must have been “composed” by someone and was not a (probably mutilated) transcript of a traditional tune!) 
As regards P. Royal the statement about O’Carolan does not seem to me to go for much4 - and by the way if the magnificent traditional version of this tune from Bampton (I think) & elsewhere are “corruptions” then long live corruptions!  (By the way is the tune in the 9th symphony a corruption of that in the choral Fantasia?5)*
*Also it wd be impossible to dance any of the versions I know of the P.R. dance to this tune because it has not that splendid slow movement.  (Is this a serious book on how to dance or is it only a collection of tunes - it seems neither one nor the other.)

Also it must be remembered
(1)  that because a tune is printed in an old book it is no proof that it is not traditional
(2) collectors of folk-dances know well that they are occasionally danced to “composed tunes” (see Sharp “English Folk dance airs” introduction6)

I must say I am amazed at your praising the accompaniments - anything more out of keeping, more banal and more helplessly amateurish (with a few exceptions) I don’t think I have ever seen - I am sure if I had met the tunes I already know & love in these versions I shd have passed them over.
Do you really admire Mad Robin with its start more or less in style & then that helpless tum-tum at bar 4 & the A & M6 harmonies at 4th bar from the end (indeed there is hardly anything but the conventional polka accomp: in many of the settings) or the setting of the Staines Morris
or the “vamping” chorus in  Del Caro’s Hornpipe (see 3rd bar from end!!)
or “Buttered Pease” unspeakable!
or “Harly Bush fair”
And the score of easiness does not excuse them because easy & artistic accompaniments with some feeling for the character of the tune are to be found frequently nowadays.

Also it must be remembered
(1)  that because a tune is printed in an old book it is no proof that it is not traditional
(2) collectors of folk-dances know well that they are occasionally danced to “composed tunes” (see Sharp “English Folk dance airs” introduction7)

And many of the tunes are not easy - Chelsea Reach  e.g. wd be impossible to play at the pace it ought to go for the dance - & the cadence to the end of line 3 entirely spoils the tune from the dancing point of view - It is v. instructive to compare this setting with Sharp’s delightful and very danceable setting in his newest book - Moffatt evidently has no feeling for these tunes & I wd say has never seen a country dance.

I am afraid any dancing enthusiast would be frightened off the book at the out set by those terrible ogling young women who are supposed to be dancing a country dance - & to any one who does not already know I shd be afraid to recommend the book in case they shd think that had any thing to do with country dancing.
I see that K & M are not responsible for the photographs but Miss M Chaplin - she ought to be ashamed of herself!  Still K & M might not have allowed them to go in - but perhaps they were under the thumb of a publisher.8
Kidson’s preface is very nice as far as it goes - but I doubt if any one cd learn the dances from his description - he says nothing about the steps except that they may be learned from a dancing master - I wonder which!!
Indeed I am puzzled as to whether this book is meant seriously to instruct people in dancing or not (most of the best dances are not described only the tunes given) - if not it ought to be so stated.

I am afraid this is more to blame than praise - perhaps I was led to expect too much from your letter - to make up I will transcribe some of the notes I have scribbled by the side of the Tunes:
Fox & geese.             fairly good
E. - O.                           "     "
Hampstead Heath         "      "
Bouree                      good
Maids Morris             fairly good
Saraband                      "      "
Bright & airy              good tune bad setting
Canst thou not          good
Marionettes               fairly good
Kent Jig                     good tune - but bad setting (impossible to dance to)
Cheshire Rounds       fairly good
Newmarket Downfall good
Cockle Shells             good tune - setting abominable
Rigadon                    good tune
The Maids                 good

I think that 10 years ago as a pioneer book this might have been useful - But now that we have books like Sharps “Country Dances” selected by a man with a real feeling for the fine tunes and a real musical sense (nearly always) & fitting character in the settings & above all a knowledge of the dances - a book like this seems rather useless.
Yrs very truly
R. Vaughan Williams


1. Dances of the Olden Time arranged for the pianoforte by Alfred Moffat with an essay on old English dancing … by Frank Kidson (London, 1912).
2. ‘Stanes’ Morris’ in the book
3. Cecil Sharp, Country Dance Tunes, sets 3 and 4 (London, 1911).
4. The note reads: ‘Although difficult to determine its exact origin it is highly probable that “The Princess Royal” was composed by Carolan, the Irish harper’.
5. VW refers to the main theme of the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which Beethoven had previously used in the Choral Fantasia, op.80.
6. i.e. Hymns Ancient & Modern.
7. Preface to Sharp’s Folk-Dance Airs (London, 1909).
8. The photographs of which VW is complaining are of rather mannered dancers in various forms of ‘quaint’ costume and are described as having been ‘prepared under the direction of Miss Nellie Chaplin, London’.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
2185/LEB/1/192
General notes: 

Date from postmark.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 78
Original database number: 
130122