Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Margery Cullen

Letter No.: 
8th March, 1950

The White Gates,

Dear Margery

I feel it is now time that I gave a detailed answer to your and Mr. Bixley’s letter.1
I need hardly say I am much touched by your request and in a way wish I could agree to it; but do you think you are going the right way to work? For one thing you are rather late in the day, because I have promised so many other things and refused many more. You may say, if I have promised to other people why not to us? But the things I have promised were special cases; - for instance, the “Concerto grosso” for the Rural Music people and the masque music for Charterhouse.2
But in this case it does seem to me it would be much better if you wanted to do something of mine to do something which has already been tried and proved. Or do you not think that anything already written is good enough? In that case it is hardly likely that a work which is done rather in a hurry in the middle of other occupations would be likely to be any better.
Surely there are many works of mine which have not been often, or even ever, done by L.H.M.F.3  I do hope, if you want to do anything of mine, you would consider one of those.
I fear that, like Brahms, I have no sympathy with the mere desire for novelty and the fact that you can say that it was specially written for this occasion. All I can promise is that if later on when you have to make up your programmes finally, I have something ready or nearly ready, I could offer it to you. Or possibly some work like my “Voice from the whirlwind” which at present is only accompanied by the organ, could be orchestrated for this purpose.
I do not want to appear churlish, but at the present moment I am feeling rather tired and cannot face the idea of promising a new work. You know you cannot write a new piece of music like you can make a suit of clothes - just sit down and do it. The actual writing is often nothing; it is the mental preparation beforehand which counts.4


(R. Vaughan Williams).

Miss Cullen

1. VW had been invited by George Bixley, as secretary of the Surrey Philharmonic Orchestral Society, to be President of the Society for the season 1950-51, during which it was proposed to give joint concerts with Leith Hill Musical Festival choir as part of the Festival of Britain. The present letter is in response to a subsequent invitation to provide a new work for one of the concerts.
2. Concerto Grosso for string orchestra (Catalogue of Works, 1950/1) was written for the massed orchestra of the The Rural Schools Music Association and performed the following November;  Solemn Music for the Masque of Charterhouse (Catalogue of Works, 1950/4) was written for a performance at Charterhouse (VW's old school) the following July.
3. Leith Hill Musical Festival.
4. In the event the concert in Dorking Halls on 16th June 1951 included the Cantata Dona nobis pacem  (Catalogue of Works, 1936/5), and,as he had suggested, The voice out of the whirlwind (Catalogue of Works 1947/2), with the accompaniment specially orchestrated by the composer for the occasion. The soloists were Elsie Suddaby and Gordon Clinton. Other works in the programme were Gordon Jacob’s Sinfonietta and Elgar’s Enigma Variations. VW conducted his own works.

Location of original letter:

Location of copy:

General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.

Cobbe 534
Original database number: