Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Gustav Holst

Letter No.: 
[January 1908]

My Dear V.

Do you really think that because your work has been crowned with the disfavour of Joseph Bennet,1 that my & other people's labours, in scratching out your mistakes is made any the more or less worthwhile? - The point is that it's a big work & naturally anything one does to help on that is not wasted.
I'm sorry (a) that you haven't got £500
                (b) that you are not promised a performance -  perhaps these are rather important side issues but they are side issues - the real, important thing is that you have not been put in the awful position when “all men speak well of you” - Think, the awful stigma to have gone through life with a prize opera on your back - almost as damning as a mus: doc:
I'm glad on the whole that you are “highly commended” - because it probably means that one judge (perhaps Stanford?2 - or Percy Pitt?) did really know a good thing when they saw it - and it may be practically useful as far as performance goes.
P. Greene3 has written me a very silly letter saying he doesn't like your songs & has sent them back to me - they are at 13 Cheyne Walk.
To return to the opera
I don't know that even my faith in you wd have been quite strong enough to have stood the shock of approval by J. Bennet.
So after all, at the expense of worldly advantages, you've saved your honour.
Perhaps you think it’s too serious a matter to joke about - well, I know it is - but then after all the most important thing is that you’ve written a big work and that you aren’t in the awful position of being continually praise[d] by those whose opinions & methods you despise in every way.


Dear Mr  Von Holst

I am sorry that your opera has not been chosen - but I always felt here that the best one could/would not get the prize.

1. Holst had entered Sita for the Ricordi prize and had failed to win it by a narrow margin. See Short, Gustav Holst: The Man and his Music, p.72. Bennett (VW refers to him as 'Bennet') was one of the judges of the Ricordi Prize. The others were Charles Stanford, Percy Pitt and Tito Ricordi.
2. According to Short, Stanford was said to have disliked Sita intensely.
3. Plunket Greene, bass/baritone and son-in-law of Hubert Parry.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 158, ff.47-48
General notes: 

Postscript in the hand of AVW.

Cobbe 52; Heirs and Rebels, Letter XIV
Original database number: