Letter from Gustav Holst to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
April 15 [1932]


Dear R
I'm sorry -
a) that I didn't stop to see you at the Dyson concert the night before I sailed: but I was tired and rather bored:
b) that my boat got in to NY six hours late so that I would not send a cable to you and Biddy1 during the Dorking concert as I had meant to.
c) that all this time I have merely thought of all the things I wanted to write to you about instead of doing the job.

And now comes your lovely long lettter - many many thanks.

It's grand news about the Magnificat and I hope to see it soon.  Stewart's theology sounds a little unorthodox but his common sense is unquestionable.

I've had a lovley suite of rooms at Eliot House with a good quiet study.  So far I've written two more male voice chorusses for Davison's choir.

How's the New Sym?  Whan I get home in July I want a 2 piano fieldday of both old and new versions.  When do you arrive in the USA?  How long will you stay?  And will you be able to visit Howard?  In that case I'll lend you Davison's front door key.  Please tell HPA I'll do the same to him.  It's a useful thing to have in this country.

I'm very glad I've made use of Duncan McKenzie (OUP) as an agent.  He has been really helpful and I hope you'll at least consider using him.  The alternative would be to print 1000 for us.

Dear Sir or Madame,
I'll see you damned before I'll conduct, lecture, dime [?], be interviewed, be photographed - I regret the others but there are a few left.  You'd probably have to accept all the Mus Docs - i've just refused the 2nd in a month.  We'll discuss McKenzie when I return.

I've had three new experiences this year.
I  Pretending to be a star conductor.  You know all about that now.  It was wildly exciting and I had a lovely time with the orchestra
II  Pretending to be a University Professor.  Which is Rum.  My idea of composition is to spoil as much MS paper as possible.
But my pupils here would far rather write a thesis on Schönberg's use of the bass clarinet compared with Webern's: or, better still, talk vaguely about the best method of introducing the second subject in the recapitulation.  And some of these boys have really studied hard - if not music, anyhow books on music.  Is this University or is it America?

I got square with one ultra-modernist, wrong-note merchant by pointing out that I was an old fogey who was only here for two months more and that when I'd gone he could make up for lost time but that until then he'd better humour me and even occasionally write a tune.  And he answered cordially, 'Sure'!

III  On Easter Day, after lecturing on Haydn in Washington the previous day and having a horrid 14 hour journey back at night, they took me to hospital with a duodenal ulcer.  And I learnt the real meaning of the phrase 'A Bloody Nuisance'.  They reckoned that I lost two quarts.  They gave me a) blood transfusion which was invigorating at first but which gave me a high temperature the next day: b) morphia which is altogether delightful: c) five days diet of 'creamed milk' every hour which was infernal.
I had one beautiful experience which was repeated two nights later.  I felt I was sinking so low that I couldn't go much further and remain on earth.  As I have always expected, it was a lovely feeling although the second time, as it began, I had a vague feeling that I ought to be thinking of my sins.  But a much stronger feeling was that there was something more important on hand and that I mustn't waste time.  Both times, as soon as I reached the bottom I had one clear, intense and calm feeling - that of overwhelming gratitude.  And the four chief reasons for gratitude were Music, the Cotswolds, RVW and having known the impersonality of orchestral playing.

I was in hospital 16 days and since then I have been staying with the Davisons who are dears.  Every day I've been getting stronger and walking more.  I go back to Eliot House on Monday.  Excepting for dieting the whole thing is well over.
At last I've seen my brother act - in Shaw's new play 'Too true to be good'.2  He is a first rate character actor and has the greatest luck an artist can have - he is known and respected by everyone here who cares for real acting and ignored by the rest.  He stopped with me at Eliot House and we were under one roof for the first time for forty years.
Afterwards his daughter Valerie came to Boston acting in Hay Fever3.  She is a dear both on and off the stage and I'm tremendously proud of my family.  Which, by the bye, is a fourth new experience!
They get a month's holiday in June and are going to rush over to England as Emil (his stage name is Ernest Cossart) hasn't had a real holiday for years.  The trouble is that probably I shall arrive in London (about July!) just as they are getting back into New York.
However I hope for better luck in 1933.
My movements are uncertain.  If the doctor allows I go to conduct at Ann Arbor about May 17 and then on to Vancouver Island after which a holiday in the Rockies and then home.
But I'm not running any risks and if all these nights and meals in trains won't do I'll come back in the middle of June.

Love to Adeline.
Get on with the Symphony.4
yr ever

1.  Helen Bidder.
2.  Gustav’s brother Emil Von Holst acted under the stage-name of Ernest Cossart (see VWL1024)
3.  Hay Fever by Noel Coward.
4.  Symphony no. 4.

Location of copy:

Heirs and Rebels, Letter XXXVI
Original database number: