Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to George Chambers

Letter No.: 
May 28th 1955.

From R. Vaughan Williams,
10, Hanover Terrace,
Regents Park, 
London, N.W.1.

Dear Father George,
If the enclosed is any use to you, please use it, but call it preface, or introduction please but not that horrible word, foreword! I am rather  at a loss  how to describe you, whether Father, Dr or Mr.. perhaps you will put that right before it goes to the printer, if you use it.
It is most kind of your publishers to allow me to keep the sheets. I have discovered one or two misprints which I note, though you will have already probably discovered them yourself. I fear I cannot check the references, but I have noticed four mis-spellings, custom, source, Jubilus, and nationality.
Yrs sincerely
R Vaughan Williams


Father Chambers' masterly treatise ought really to be unnecessary. Parry in his "Evolution of the Art of Music" has proved conclusively that music obeys the laws of heredity, and that a Beethoven Symphony is in the direct line of descent from a primitive fok song. Surely, what is true in general must be equally true in particular, and the the1 plain song of the church derive from the song of the people.
It is perhaps lucky that our bat-eyed musicologists have not recognised this, and that it has been necessary for Father Chambers to write this delightful, learned, and to my mind, entirely persuasive essay. Of course the musicologists cannot altogether ignore the connection between plain song and folk song, but they have put the cart before the horse and imagine that the music of the people is the debased descendant of that of the church. In their opinion the written word was impeccable and oral tradition fallible. But in truth the clerk may make errors in his copying while the memory of the unlettered countryman is sure.
One of the most interesting chapters of this book contains convincing proof that the "Jubilus" is not an ecclesiastical parallel to the coloratura of the prima donna, but has developed out of the wordless melismata of primitive people, when their mystical emotions got beyond words. This is only one instance of the deep research and thorough scholarship which pervades the book.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

1. sic.
2. For Chambers' book "Folksong, Plainsong : a study in origins and musical relationships" (London: Merlin Press, 1956), where it was published in slightly edited form.

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
1714/1/32, ff. 10-12, f. 15
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed. The pages have be placed in a different order in the British Library sequence; f. 15 should follow f. 10, before f. 11.