Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Olin Downes

Letter No.: 

The White Gates,

Dear Mr Downes,

Many thanks for your letter.  It is always a pleasure for me to hear from you.  You must also forgive me for typing, but I have at this moment a friend staying with me who is kindly typing my letters which makes them legible.  I will try and tell you about my F. minor symphony.

I don't think I like it any more than you do, but that does not mean that I am sorry I wrote it.  I somehow had to at the time, for what reason I don't know; not certainly for the reasons given by some of my kind friends in the press: eg, that it represented the turmoil of Europe at the moment or that I was trying to go one better than the mid-Europeans.  So far as I can remember, it grew out of two things, one, I had read a verbal description of some modern symphony, by whom I forget, and blaspheming Beethoven, I quoted him and said to myself, "il faut que je compose cela".  Musically I think also it grew from Beethoven, as it was first thought of at the time of the Beethoven centenary, and as I daresay you have noticed the opening chord is identical with the opening chord of the finale of1 Beethoven's 9th.  That is all I can tell you about it, and I don't think I ever wore my art on my sleeve so much as in this letter, so please keep it for your own ears only.

As regards the new symphony, I do not know whether it is a "reversion to my earlier style", but it is very simple, and therefore I expect it was a great disappointment to those who expected an "F. minor" with knobs2 on.  As regards to getting it to America by October 7th, I imagine that will be impossible.  There are at present only two scores, and one set of parts, and my publishers don't know how to satisfy the people in England who seem to want to do it.

Yours sincerely
R Vaughan Williams

1.  "the finale of" added in manuscript.
2.  The letter "k" added in manuscript.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Olin Downes Papers
General notes: 


Atlas, Allan W., “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Olin Downes: Newly Uncovered Letters”, Journal of the RVW Society No. 60 (June, 2014)
Original database number: