Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Harold Child

Letter No.: 
[Summer, 1910]

Leith Hill Place,
Nr. Dorking.

13 Cheyne Walk,

Dear Mr Child,
I've at last read through your admirable scenario very thoroughly - it seems fine, it ought to turn unto something just right and very good.
I want to make one or two criticisms - but I fully realise that both literally and dramatically I am a complete ignoramus and you are not - nevertheless I will put them down for what they are worth - only remember my suggestions may be impossible and are not in any way final.  Well, first, generally: -
1.  I shd rather be more sympathetic with the English peasantry, the laugh all the way through is at the English people and with the Welshman.  Now what I want in the opera is that the English peasant shall not be looked on as a mere clown but a person capable of such beautiful song (and all that is implied by them) as we now know of - but this need not alter the general tenor of the plot.
2.  Dont' think me captious - but I don't quite like the names, - but that is a small point - only they suggest to me the stage village a little.
3.  Wd it perhaps be better to make the heroine a real village girl - and not quite the status of a mayor's daughter, (cd. not the father be the village constable?)
4.  Do you think there are too many side issues - e.g. the 2 maids and their two lovers; the plot of an opera cannot be to simple - but this we shall see later.
5.  The period 1820 seems good, or even earlier - at all evens it ought to be the right period for Annis to have a very pretty pair of buckled shoes to kick off in Act II.
6.  Is the final climax quite strong enough?  I shd like it to end in more decisive triumph for the lovers - perhaps Blogg and his associates cd. have some further scheme or revenge ceonnected with their Maying expedition which finally turns to their own confusion?

I'm afraid I've not done yet - but I have some more detailed suggestions (please don't accept any of them).
ACT I.  Cd the prize fight be made more the climax of the fair part of the business - the crowd might come on again (2nd time) in response to a definite summons on the part of a showman to come to see a fight - he might already got hold of Blogg and persuaded him to 'meet all comers'.  (By the way, the crowd might go off 1st time following a procession of Morris Dancers (not dancing) but processing to their dancing place.)  I like the meeting of hero and heroine tremendously.  I think we cd. arrange the prize fight on cd we not? - with a large crowd on chairs etc. to hide the fighters,  (By the way I send you now Zincali with the passage marked on page 18.)  Note in the Zincali - our next opera might be Lavengro - I've always had this in my mind but quite forgot to talk about it when we met.
In ACT II there are 3 lyric climaxes for the lovers - wd it not be better to roll these into one - ending with the 'Drovers marriage' ceremony, then the gradual dawn and arrival of the lovers - but I don't know.
- My keenness on yr scheme grows with every successive rereading - send me any bits as you do them so that I can start thinking about them.

By the way on Sept. 1st1 Wood is doing a folk song fantasia of mine, the slow middle section of which is a sort of study for what I shd like my love scene, Act II, to be like.  Thank you so much: I begin to see daylight in operatic regions.

Yrs v. tr.
R Vaughan Williams

1.  1 September 1910.  Work which was scrapped - conducted by Henry Wood at a Promenade Concert.


Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/2/4, ff.10-21
R.V.W.: a biography, pp.404-406