Letter from James W. Welch (BBC) to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
12th September, 1944.

Please reply to:
Kingsley Hotel, Bushmead Avenue, Bedford.

Dear Dr Vaughan Williams

Many thanks for your letter of September 8th. We are all very excited about the Victory Anthem1 and much looking forward to assembling our musical resources for rehearsal and to making a record.  We thought it best to make a record, in case victory came suddenly and we were unable to collect the children, the chorus and the orchestra at the same time – besides there may be occasions when we wish to broadcast the Anthem by itself if necessary.  Our present intention is to have the first broadcast of the Victory Anthem in the Sunday morning service following Victory Day. I believe the Oxford Press has now printed copies, and I am looking forward to seeing one this week.
Thank you for your suggestions for the music in the rest of our services; we shall almost certainly have the Old Hundredth to “All people that on earth do dwell” or to “Before Jehovah’s awful throne”, and Thalben Ball or Leslie Woodgate will certainly have it sung to its proper version with the long notes at the end of each line.  We shall also have “O God, our help” to St. Anne.
If ever we meet I should very much like to have your mind on the whole question of our using German music in broadcast religious services.  We do not, e.g. ever broadcast Haydn’s Austria,2 because listeners in occupied Europe, not knowing the English language, would be conscious only that we were broadcasting the old German national anthem; so my colleague Taylor has written a very good alternative tune called Abbot’s Leigh. But I must confess that Ein Feste Burg seems rather different: it is essentially in Church history the hymn of believers in freedom struggling against tyranny, and when the Nazis dismissed the leading Norwegian pastor and put a quizling [sic] in charge of the Church, the congregation assembled outside the Cathedral with the dismissed pastor, and sang to the Nazis’ dismay and anger Ein Feste Burg in Norwegian.  What would you think, e.g., of our singing “Now thank we all our God” on victory day?  That comes from the same tradition of Church history, the Lutheran proclamation of freedom against what was thought to be the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church.  The B.B.C. in its broadcasts of orchestral music has not allowed the German origin of great music to weigh against our broadcasting it, and I am just wondering whether you think that in a religious service people’s feelings are more sensitive and that we ought to feel “all things are lawful, but all things are not expedient”.  Our general impression is that the average listener doesn’t know where tunes like Ein Feste Burg and Nun Danket come from, and the people who do know feel that great Church music is the possession of the whole Church and not of any one nation.  Still, I must confess that I am puzzled about all this, and when next we meet I should be grateful for your views.
We have just finished a three-day meeting going through the B.B.C. hymn book, and I hope our suggestions of tunes will be ready to send to you in the early spring.
Yours sincerely,

Rev. J. W. Welch3

1. Thanksgiving for Victory (Catalogue of Works 1944/4).
2. Haydn's tune had been the German and Austrian national anthem as well as the tune (called 'Austria') used for the popular hymn 'Glorious things of thee are spoken'. Cyril Taylor's 'Abbot's Leigh', written specifically to avoid the use of Haydn's  tune in wartime, has remained a popular alternative to 'Austria' ever since.
3. This letter was written in response to VWL1932. Welch was Director of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 910, VW composer
Cobbe 438
Original database number: