Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Cecil Sharp

Letter No.: 
[About 3 November 1913]

13 Cheyne Walk
Chelsea, S.W.

Dear Sharp

I return m.s. which seems to me v. good.1 I always agree with your conclusions - though not always with the way to get at them - but this is almost impossible to explain & is probably (as you wd say) “temperamental”.
I've put my objections in hot & strong as I thought that was the best way of making them clear.  We go away early next week.  I shd like to come down v. much on Sunday but do not see my way to it at present.


P.S. (later) I am afraid Sunday is quite impossible


P.P.S.  The enclosed may amuse you


Sharp. Folk-songs


p.2  Please cut out the word “lower” before classes - if it is the usual word at present it’s high time we suppress it.  I have known several people who are much put off by references of that kind to the folk-singing class - besides a little more explanation is required “unsophisticated & unlettered” or “untravelled & unlettered” seems to me better - also I shd leave out “classes” & substitute “members” or “portions”.
p.3 bottom line - “found only” etc - this is not true - in the special sense to which you are referring - folk-singers are most usually found in small country towns -  they have doubtless migrated there from the country - but the fact remains - indeed I think the whole distinction between “Town” & “Country” song is misleading - the distinction was not there, probably in older times & is not now.  The distinction is between spontaneous, traditional, oral music & deliberate, written conscious music.
p.3 delete lines 2 & 3 which seem to me out of place in a pamphlet of this kind.
p.6.  “The advent of the grammarian ...” etc seems to me more misleading - & seems to suggest that all art-music is pedantry - it is also probable that the folk-song had its peasants pedants also - & probably there was a sort of “etiquette” of folk-singing much more rigid than our musical grammar - which only the geniuses over-stepped - just as savages have customs & taboos much more rigid than our reasoned laws.
p.9.  line 1: “nor again etc”.  This seems to me to draw a red herring across the track
p.11. Leave out the words “voice production” - as this seems to me a most important part of a child’s education - you seem to me to give the words “voice production” an evil connotation - because so much so called voice production is bad & unnecessary - but surely real voice production - the encouragement of a full clear pleasant sound whether in speaking or singing, and (as you yourself go on to say) of clear enunciation is absolutely necessary & a most important part of the development of the child’s best nature.  To take an extreme case supposing a child tried to sing (or speak) with its mouth tight shut the teacher wd have to tell it to open it - & what wd this be but a lesson in voice production?   I heard only the other day of a teacher who told children that when they sang folk-songs they must shout & roar & discouraged a pleasant tone - with the result that the managers of a neighbouring competition decided to have no folk-songs - if it was to mean this - This seems to me the direct outcome of this talk about voice production being unnecessary.
p. A (my mark) line 17. See my remarks before about grammatical rules - this seems to imply that harmony was the result of grammatical rules - harmony is just as much a spontaneous product as melody.
p. B. (my mark) broaden here & elsewhere & include Wales Ireland & Scotland - the E.F.D.S. etc have just as many adherents there as in England.
p. C. (my mark) line 10  “Technically this is ... etc” If this is a rule it is more honoured in the breach than in the observance!
p. D.  (my mark) last two lines - what price voice production?!?
p. E. my mark - the analogy with the Elgin Marbles is not correct because it might equally well apply to a Beethoven symphony or a Handel Oratorio


1.  Apparently text of a pamphlet - possibly Folk Singing in Schools, though this is listed in the Sharp biography as being 1912.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/2, ff.106-116
General notes: 

Date within 7 days of Sharp’s reply dated Sunday 9th November 1913 - see VWL389.

Original database number: