Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Neville Coghill and Hal Burton

Letter No.: 
VWL4882
14th February, 1951.

The White Gates
Dorking, Surrey.

This is a joint letter and I am sending copies to each of you. Part applies to one of you and part to the other, but most of it to both, and the part which applies most strongly to both is my grateful thanks for my afternoon the other day. If I may say so I think you are both doing splendid work and the result ought to be wonderful.
I hope you will not think my few suggestions and criticisms are carping. I do not want in any way to dictate and if you still feel that you are right and I am wrong, say so. I will go through things in order:
Act I. Scene II. Do you think there are too many robes? I do not want to give a "churchy" effect to it. Could  we possibly suggest something more outlandish in some of the dresses, say Egyptian, or even Pagan?
Page 36 I understand that the figures in white which come out of the big doors are to be twelve members of the chorus. It seems rather absurd that the chorus should come out and have nothing special to sing. I therefore suggest that the chorus part from Page 38 Fig. 11 up to Page 39, Fig. 12 should be sung by this white chorus only and that the full chorus should join in with them on Page 40, second line. If you approve of this it will possibly require a little alteration of the stage grouping.
I am not quite happy about the Pilgrim's white robe. It looked rather too much to me like a choirboy. Would it not be possible to have something like a Doctor's robe only, of course, white and not scarlet. Perhaps the white could have some gold threads in it. This could be thrown off his shoulders quite easily and I think the fitting on of the present idea might be difficult. 
ACT II- BEGINNING. I should like, if possible, to have a real trumpeter with a real trumpet on the stage. I wish we could get Bernard Brown for it, he is a fine-looking man and a first-rate trumpeter. I am writing to him to ask his advice as to whether he can fix up his trumpet so as not to look too mcuh like an orchestral valve trumpet.
I do not quite like the idea of the trumpeter being in robes. Would it not be like the Heavenly Trumpeter in hte last Act? I suggest a tunic and hose instead.
ACT II, Page 24. I understand  you want the chorus off-stage. It will be a little bit difficult, but I think it can be managed. I am sorry, however, that you are not going to have a full stage for that scene. It all comes of this (I think entirely mistaken) idea that Act III should follow straight on after Act II.
Act II, Page 44. I suggest that the schedule of articles given to the Pilgrim should be reduced to the Key of Promise only. He need not have a staff in that Act and if he has to have one in the Vanity Fair scene can he not be supposed to have bought one at the village shop on his way, so that the Evangelist's sentence at Fig. 30 will run: "Take with you the Key of Promise". The  Evangelist can easily carry that in the folds of his robe and produce it and give it to the Pilgrim without any trouble, I think.
I am writing to Hancock to tell him about that omission.
Act III, Page 12. The entry of Madam Bubble, Madam Wanton, and Lord Lechery comes after the procession. There is a slight pause and then according to the stage directions they come slowly forward and "glamorously", the crowd parting to make way for them. I feel that Madam Wanton looks altogether too respectable. I think she should be rather more hoydenish. Would not the costume designed for Mabam Bubble suit her? 
About Madam Bubble, I suggested originally something Oriental and it suddenly occurs to me what I meant - that was, Turkish trousers and turban and lots of jewellery. You will remember that what she promises to Pilgrim in her turn is "Crowns and Kingdoms".
Page 23. The music of the two trumpeters had better here be played in the orchestra and dummy trumpeters appear on the stage.
ACT IV, Page 57. I think here the Heavenly Trumpeter had better be a dummy and the real trumpeter can stand close to him behind the Wall of Heaven. I think that will be alright, then you can make your heavenly trumpet any fantastic shape you like.

 

(R. Vaughan Williams).

Nevill Coghill and 
Hall Burton, Esq.
Exeter College, Oxford.

Subjects:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus.1714/2/2/1, ff. 112-114
General notes: 

Typewritten copy, unsigned.

Format: 
Letter