Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Cecil Sharp

Letter No.: 

Chap.3. p.3  for “Susan told me ..” read “Mrs Williams told me”
- - - - - -  for “one H. Lancombe” read “Mr H. Lancombe”

p.4  and elsewhere - I prefer “unlettered” to “illiterate”  which has a certain odium connected with it and is, surely, more used for bad literature - an “illiterate poem” e.g.  cf the diff. between “immoral” and “unmoral”.

p.8  (This is not a criticism but a suggestion)

When a folk-singer hears you sing to him and you make a mistake in the words he has the technical means at his disposal of correcting you - he can say “and” should be “but” and so on - but when it comes to his music he has no technical terms at his disposal by means of which he can express himself - he cannot say “Bb and not B [natural]” or a quaver and not a crotchet” or “triple time not duple” - he feels his inability to explain exactly where your version differs from his and (also partly out of politeness) merely says “yes thats about it”.  This point is worth considering.

With regard to the end of the story of LEB,1 Burstow, and Salisbury Plain - you may add that he sang it to me last Tuesday with the words and he sang almost the identical tune that I got from Mrs Verrall (see my no.(8) of the F.S.J.)2

p.11  its the Gypsy singers of Hungary who embellish not the Magyar - is it not?

I’m not quite satisfied with your major version of the Lazarus tune - it seems to me to be so far away as not to be the same tune - also it is a pity that the aeolian version starts in the middle of the tune - why not give the 6/8 Cumberland version?

Chap. 4 p.2 - “he wd grow more proficient” is the “hecorrect  - surely his great grandson or his next door neighbour.

 5.  “The latter deduced - - from the music of the folk” - was deliberately - fancy the late Sir G. Macfarren  sitting down to write his harmony book3 with a collection of folk-songs in front of him - I know what you mean but I don’t think you’ve expressed it right - and also not the harmony professor - the student of form construction aesthetics - but not harmony.    

1. Lucy E. Broadwood
2. On this story see Kennedy in Catalogue of Works, p.261. Mr Henry Burstow refused to sing the words to Lucy Broadwood, deeming them unsuitable to sing to a lady. Mr & Mrs Verrall sang Salisbury Plain to VW on 8th October 1904. The F.S.J. is the Folk Song Journal.
3. Sir George Macfarren, author of The Rudiments of Harmony, London 1860.


Location of original letter:

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/26, ff. 107-108
General notes: 

Comments on a draft, possibly of introduction to Folksongs of Somerset, probably included in a letter now lost. Text undeciphered where 'never used' has been inserted.

Original database number: