Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Harold Child

Letter No.: 
VWL4944
[1912]

Leith Hill Place,
Dorking.

Dear Child
I hope my telegram didn't alarm you - but I suddenly found I was going to have a peaceful 4 days in which I hope to set to work on the opera - but I've really plenty to do with the rest of the first act if you haven't got the beginning part ready yet.
What I really write this about is that while I was brushing my hair just before dinner tonight I had two ideas for Act II, one of which struck me as very brilliant and one rather brilliant.
The very brilliant one was that the soldiers should come in, as you suggested, at John's instigation to take Hugh off to gaol, that when the soldiers arrive the officer should recognise Hugh as the Welsh drover from whom he bought 3 horses a fortnight ago and has not yet paid for.  (I am afraid this is against all Mr. Archer's principles, because it keeps a secret from the audience - though it is a 'peripety' - do you think it is too amateurish?  Of course, it has one disadvantage from the operatic point of view, that it absolutely depends on the words being heard) and he proceeds to order his release and pay him the money on the spot.  This provides a triumph for Hugh and discomforting of John which we wanted.  As a pendant to this do you think we might make the officer forcefully enlist John as a soldier (was there anything in the army corresponding to the press gang?)
John having been once more led off and Hugh proved a man of means, the constable begins to lick his boots and begs him to settle down and become his son-in-law.  Hugh refuses and asks May to come off with him; she accepts, so after a short lecture to all concerned on the advantages of the open air life (à la Feuersnot) he and Mary go off in their cart amid the general lamentation of the villagers.  (i.e. a soft romantic open-airy ending and not rumbustious.)  I dare say you've got something even better that all this by this time - so don't pay any attention.
My other rather brilliant idea is as follows - that the reason for Hugh and Mary deciding not to fly together, but to await events in the stocks, shall be mental and not physical - Mary says 'you are free, fly' - he says 'No, I'll wait here and claim you before them all' - this avoids the repetition of the situation of the first act.  So Act II might altogether run,
John and friends come out of pub and blackguard Hugh,
Hugh left alone songs,
Mary looks out of the window and sings,
He calls to her and she comes down and unlocks him,
Long and passionate duet,
Mayers heard in the distance,
Hugh and Mary get back into the stocks,
Mayers enter, headed by John who serenades Mary,
Mary not there
Enter Constable,
General bustle,
Mary throws off cloak 'Here am I.'
By the way, you want a quick ensemble piece.  How about this sort of rhythm?

or

or a quick patter

with slower things for the lovers to sing on the top.  Or for a slower ensemble how about

It is better musically for the non recitative scene to keep a metre going regularly, more or less.
I've been wrestling with the new short scene before the entry of the showman and think I've got it right.
I'm making rather hay of some of your text - which it goes to my heart to do because it is so frighfully good.
Yrs.
R.V.W.

Subjects:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/2/4, ff.57-61
Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
R.V.W.: a biography, pp.412-414