Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Alexander Burnard

Letter No.: 
Jan 2d 1933

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

My Dear Friend
First heartiest congratulations on the Doctorate, & then best wishes to you & your Phyllis for the new year & good luck to your attempt on the directorship. I've been through the "Allegro" pretty thoroughly now.
There is much which I like in it & much that I do not like so much.
The choral writing is uniformly good I think.
Special places I like are
F.S. p.105 etc. - on the whole the best section, very nice oboe tune (but difficult to make clean - subordinate parts a bit too over loaded - let the ideas speak for themselves
p.120-125 - that choral end ought to sound very poetical
p.156 beginning very good - but you do not carry your ideas out sufficiently - they are inclined to stop short too soon & will I fear have a scrappy effect . Some tunes
These are of course only some of the places
The orchestration is not so certain as the choral writing - inclined to be overloaded so that the important things will not come through
and that poor side drum! slow 9 10ths of him ought to go & about 3/4 of the muted brass.
As to the setting of the words you have concentrated on the poetic expression rather to the neglect of the musical side so that flow is lost. I think that many of the orchestral sections between the choral parts might go or be much shorter - And you are inclined to hang up the unity for the sake of realistic word painting (I expect you like the cock & the wood-notes wild - I don't think I do)
When you have got the vocal score ready I should try in Australia first, with the fierce competition here & the very few prizes I fear it would be useless trying.
I believe what I really advise is to put it away for a bit & do something much less elaborate - where your melodic invention would have more play - try for a straight forward line & let your ideas continue with less interruption - keep it all simple - even the choral parts
This work shows (naturally) inexperience & I think after a time you would be able to return to it with more experience & confidence & remodel it keeping all the good & discarding the unnecessary parts.
As regards the songs, I was very much touched that you want to dedicate them to me. I feel with them very much as with the "Allegro" - poetical feeling for the words - but too inclined to let detailed expression take the place of a view of the poem as a whole - But they are much more successful that the "Allegro".
I am having a pfte arrangement made as it is no good sending the str 4tet version round to singers - they wd not be able to read it - when this comes back I will write to you again with further criticism & will see what can be done with them.
Meanwhile carry on - & start with something a little simple & grow up to the more elaborate with greater confidence
Yrs affectionately
R Vaughan Williams


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Alexander Burnard Papers