Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to A.H. Fox-Strangways

Letter No.: 
Feb. 20 [?1933]

Dear Foxy,1

Maud has sent me a draft of the life to look at.2  I think it is going to be very good.  My chief criticisms are in the summary.  Here are one or two notes and queries:-
Chap. 1  Is not St Cecilia's Day actually Nov. 22nd?

Should not account of father and mother precede that of brothers and sisters.

P.9a  “From there” from where?

Last par.  over-elaborated joke.

P.12 et passim.  Surely ocarina not ocharina?

Par.4.  is Morris dancing correct?

P.13b  et passim.  Please pianoforte not piano.


P.22 line 3.  His brother (Lewen has already been mentioned)

P.43a.  Please keep this.

P.50.  Ought you not to include some one else's views on F.S.3  in addition to those of a professional scoffer like Dent and a crank like Mark?

P.56, etc.  Too much Marson.

Chap. 4.

P.66.  I should omit this.

P.75.  Why not give names of some of the songs to point the story?

Chap. 5

pp.97 & 98.  Must we have all this?


P.117  “Sharp was that clown”.  Surely a most unfortunate way of putting things.

Chap. 8.
  Did not Somervell speak at this meeting and was it not the first time he definitely supported Sharp - ought not this to be mentioned?

Chap 14. Summary

I like most of this very much and some of it is beautiful, but I feel that you ought here to make a definite confession of faith from you which you have rather shirked4 all the rest of the book.  Do you believe (1) that a folk-tune can be a perfect work of art though necessarily on a small scale, e.g. “Searching for Lambs”.  (2)  That the principles on which all music is built are to be found in embryo in the F.S., because otherwise music would have no foundation in human nature.  And as a corollorary to this (3)  That musical expression is something which is innate in the human being.  If you believe this you should say so boldly.  If you do not believe it why should you have troubled to write a life of Cecil Sharp except as an awful example of misguided enthusiasm.

Can't you alter this to me repulsive simile of a germ carrier?

“He was handicapped” etc.  Not true.  He was certainly a trained pianist and theoretician.  Is it not wrong to put his pfte. playing in the same category as his violin, banjo, etc.  This sentence gives to me the impression of an amiable dilettante.

After “humanity” add “and the germs of musical beauty”.  I feel sure it was the beauty that first attracted Sharp and not the “humanity”.

Delete Mary Neal.  We've had enough of her.

Chapter 14.- cont.

Delete “perhaps with gifts”.  This is one of those remarks which though perhaps literally true give a false impression.

P.14 last par.
This all looks too important and I feel sure gives the wrong picture of the man as a whole even if it did once happen.

Reference to Mr Woodhouse misleading.  Why not “and with good reason”.

F.S. is not an artless art any more than Beethoven.  It is unselfconscious - so is all great art.  Folk-song is the same as Beethoven but limited by circumstances and differentiated by its traditional and therefore communal nature.  Also it is not untrained music.  Though the training is not that of the individual such as a professional composer gets, but the training of the traditional of countless generations.

Please say if you think so that many of the dance-tunes are not prevented from being very beautiful by the fact that they are elementary - otherwise you will be misunderstood.  I feel here that you are rather sitting on the fence with regard to the intrinsic value of F.S.  Would it not be a good plan to come out into the open and say plainly what you think?

“Sharp was not a creative musician”.  This is not true.  It may be true of his “original” compositions, but he found his creative impulse in his settings of F.S.  I deplore the comparison with Brockway whose settings so far as I know them are deliberate attempts to be clever, possibly more pianistic and slick in the conventional sense than Sharp's, but they do not seem to me to bring out the beauty of the tune.  Incidentally if you like B.'s accompaniments I do not see how you can like mine.

Chap. 14 Cont.

You suggest that Sharp was not a scholar .  He did not value scholarship for its own sake, but he had it all right and often found that he was more accurate than the professed scholars who jumped to a conclusion without sufficient research.

P.17.  Last par.
I agree with M.K.5 here.

“Consciously creative” would be more accurate than “creative”.

“haphazard”.  Your words here suggest that F.S. and dance are put together anyhow.  This is not so.  There is great subtlety in F.S. and dance.  Have you ever analysed “Searching for Lambs”, or the solo and tutti pattern of the Morris, rediscovered by Bach in his Brandenberg Concertos.  

1. Arthur Henry Fox Strangways, music critic and founder of the quarterly Music & Letters.
2. A.H. Fox-Strangways and Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp, London 1933.
3. i.e. folk song.
4. mistakenly spelt "chirked" in original.
5. i.e. Maud Karpeles.

Location of original letter:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/26, ff. 60-63
General notes: 

Typewritten, unsigned.

Original database number: