Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Percy Dearmer

Letter No.: 

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Dearmer

We had already decided long ago (in deference to someone’s objection) to exclude the tune “Covenanters” from the new S.P.1
Personally I am sorry as I consider it a fine vigorous tune and well suited to the words.
Your correspondent calls it “Jazz” - but there is no hint of “Jazz” characteristics in the tune - but perhaps your correspondent uses the epithet “Jazz” like many people use the word “Bolshie” to designate anything they disapprove of.
As to its “origin” I care nothing. If your correspondent enquires closely into the credentials of every tune he admits into his church I fear his congregation will be cut off from all the noblest hymn tunes in the world - is he aware that “O Filii et Filiae”2 is adapted from a presumably pagan song in praise of spring “Voici venir le joli mois”? That “Innsbruck”3 was originally a secular song? That the “Old Hundredth”4 is an adaptation of a love song? That the splendid solemn “Helmsley”5 is probably an adaptation of a stage song (sung by a female actor) “Where’s the mortal can resist me”? That “Jesu meine Freude”6 was originally “Flora meine Freude”? That the tune “St Theodulph”7 is first cousin to the dance tune “Sellenger’s Round” - That “Amsterdam”8 is similarly derived from a dance tune? These adaptations have always been the principle of every church, and I believe quite rightly - so that the “Devil may not have all the pretty tunes”.9
Otherwise we shall be reduced to the lucubrations of the Rev. J.B. Dykes - doubtless very pious but decidedly anaemic.
However the discussion is an academic one for we have decided, rather unwillingly, to omit the tune.
Yours sincerely

R. Vaughan Williams

1. Songs of Praise
2. Songs of Praise no.143
3. ibid. no.57.
4. ibid. no.443.
5. ibid. no.65.
6. ibid. no.544.
7. ibid. no.135.
8. ibid. no.286.
9. VW took up the subject again in 1958 in a letter to Simona Pakenham (See VWL3386) in which he declined to give the sources for the folk tunes he had used in his Te Deum.


Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/2/5, ff.95-96
General notes: 

In the hand of AVW signed by VW.

Cobbe 191
Original database number: