Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Michael and Eslyn Kennedy

Letter No.: 
December 23rd 1956.

From R. Vaughan Williams,
10, Hanover Terrace,
Regents Park,
London, N.W.1.

Dear Eslyn and Michael,

Your selection of poems is splendid.  I am especially glad that you have introduced the Tennyson lines about the full juiced apple, which I sometimes think, are, for pure beauty of sound, among the best things in poetry. But I don’t know if I shall ever be able to get to your selection.  I do not know whether I dare to set Hardy!1
The Holst concert2 was, I believe, a success: excellent performances, the house not full, but not painfully empty.  I hear that there were a lot of quite young people there who were much excited.  I am confirmed in my opinion that the Ode to Death3 is his finest choral work. Egdon Heath4 is gradually clarifying in my mind – it is still a bit of a puzzle.  Christopher Finzi, as representing the younger generation, admired it most of all.  Then there is Assemble all ye maidens,5 which I had not heard since I conducted it years ago.  It is very lovely.  The morning of the year6 is a strange mixture – I like the tunes very much, and I like the choral part when I can forget the words – but the two don’t seem to fit.  I am glad we did the choral fantasia,7 which again, takes some knowing, as I believe it is fine.
I am glad to hear John is back in harness.  I hope to goodness he has learned his lesson.8
I went to St Martins to hear the new Stravinskys, and they, frankly, bored me.9
We had a very nice carol party here the other night – we sang all REAL carols, no Wenceslasses, or silent nights: we started at half past eight, had half an hours break at about ten and finished up with the first Nowell about 12.30  then more drinks.
Did you know the First Nowell goes in canon? Perhaps some people thought we sang it like that as a result of the very potent cup we had been imbibing.  One thing we sang which was not traditional was the splendid tune sung to While shepherds Watched in the west country.  (See English Hymnal Appendix 8)10
Your Christmas card is lovely, and when I have finished the book I am on, I am going to go for the scrolls.  You ought to read the Lost Steps, translated from the Spanish, by Carpentier. You will see something about it by me in next weeks Sunday Times.11
Our love to you both,


1. Michael Kennedy had compiled a collection of English poems on autumn which he hoped VW might set. The Tennyson  lines come from the third stanza of the  Choric Song in The Lotos-Eaters: ‘Lo! sweetened with the summer light / The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow, / Drops in a silent autumn night.’
2. VW had arranged a concert of Holst’s music as one of the first sponsored activities of the RVW Trust.
3. H144.
4. H172.
5. H162.
6. H164.
7. H177.
8. Barbirolli had been ill due to overwork.
9. Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum and his orchestration of Bach’s canonic variations on Vom Himmel Hoch had been performed at St Martin’s in the Fields on 11th December.
10. A tune ascribed by VW to A. Northrop with the note ‘Tune often sung in Cornwall’.
11. Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps [Los Pasos perdidos.] translated by Harriet de Onís, published by Gollancz in 1956. VW contributed occasionally to lists of well-known figures’ favourite books of the year.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 159, f.146
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed. This letter reprinted in part in Michael Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.387.

Cobbe 705; Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.387.
Original database number: