Letter from Michael Tippett to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
Sat [?January 1944]

Whitegates Cottage

Dear V.W.

Goehr1 was very touched by your speaking to him at the Committee in London some days ago (which I could not get to). He told me I was rather to blame in not having spoken to you at some time of the oratorio which he is to do in March for me.2 The real reason is that I have been hanging on waiting for the printed vocal scores which have been held up at the printers, & one of which I want to send you. I expect they will be available any week now. Meanwhile I send you the letter press of the affair which will interest you I think. If you feel like coming to the performance you shall be put in what the LPO call the ‘Royal Box’! I’ll get Tom Russell to write you properly nearer the time.
I think its a work you will like - even the spirituals, I was going to say, are somehow brought within the tradition. The music is so direct & moving that one is not offended by the vernacular speech within it.
I have had no opportunity to thank you for all you said at Oxted in June3 - & which I did not merit. I was rather unmanned the other day by what seemed to be the start of another official prosecution - but not only have I regained my small moral courage, but I gather it is not certain that the wheels will turn round to the end this time - or that we won’t be able to bring pressure to stop them - it being not customary (tho legal) to re-imprison on my charge. For myself I am so sentimentally tied to the world’s outcasts that I was quite at home among the 800 of them in the Scrubbs. A great sense of comradeship & a sweet tolerance overiding4 the general social tragedies. I was a general favourite of course - found myself even giving advice to a Welsh warder how to educate his little daughter to music! But nevertheless the experience is a deep-going one. I grieve for that strange community - & I grieve for all the coming nations of outcasts. It will need, in those of us who are sensitive, a tolerance, an understanding springing from depths “too deep for taint” as Wilfred Owen put it during the last war5 - & which did not obtain then. I know of no duty more binding on myself than this increase of understanding - I can well believe that voluntary prison is a way through for people like myself, meaning much more than the negative withdrawal from general acts which one cannot take part in, but a positive searching for that deep level from which even criminals are our brothers. I might remark that with some of the older ones, long-term married men & some of the soldiers who had destroyed human life & wondered at it, there were occasional moments of spiritual apprehension we shall never forget. The ways of God are very curious.
Kind regards

Yours sincerely

Michael Tippett.

1. Walter Goehr, conductor and father of the composer Alexander Goehr.
2. A Child of our Time was to be given its first performance on 19th March.
3. Tippett had been sentenced to three months' imprisonment on grounds of his uncompromising stand as a conscientious objector in a hearing at Oxted Police Court in June 1943. VW had spoken in his support. See also VWL1606.
4. sic.
5. The phrase comes from Wilfred Owen's poem 'Strange meeting'.


Cobbe 424
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