Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Donald F. Tovey

Letter No.: 
March 3 [1927]

13 Cheyne Walk
Chelsea, S.W.

Dear Tovey

Thank you very much for your delightful and informative letter.
I wish I could have heard your performance of my P.S.1 Your analytical programme interested me very much – I didn’t know that I was being “tri-planar”!  After all it’s only a very slight extension of our old friends the “added thirds” that we used to learn about in the counterpoint books, but I suppose that, like M. Jourdain I have been talking prose all my life without knowing it.2
I only join issue  with you on one point – that is the supposed “rusticity” of the Scherzo – It was far from my mind when I wrote it – To let you into a secret the last two movements have for their material the sketches for a ballet that I was once asked to write but discarded as I found the subject uncongenial.3  It was something about a voice in a wood and the themes of the scherzo were to have been a dance of  oofs and goblins and at the end they all run off4 – But don’t say anything about this because I don’t think it a good plan labelling works with programmes.  Though a programme may often help the composer and the interpreter may often be helped by making up a programme of his own but not a ready-made one by someone else.  Forgive this long rigmarole.  It is only a roundabout way of saying Thank you very much.  I hope we may meet soon.
Yrs sincerely

R Vaughan Williams

P.S.  Your account of Eb Tpt & its tricks v. interesting.  I bought a real Eb my self – but I find the trumpet players can fake the “natural” notes.


1. Tovey had conducted a performance of both VW’s and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphonies by the Reid Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall on 24th February 1927. 
2. A reference to the well-known remark by M. Jourdain in Molière’s Le Bourgois Gentilhomme Act II sc.4. The programme note was re-published in Tovey’s Essays in musical analysis, II (1935) with additions based on this letter (despite VW’s request not to say anything about his source material). However Tovey misread the word ‘oofs’ as ‘oafs’ and was so quoted by Michael Kennedy in Works of Vaughan Williams p.205. 
3. VW had been asked to write music for a ballet, The voice in the wood, to a scenario by Margaret Longman (a singer) and Angela Hubbard (see VWL450). The scenario survives.
4. VW has in mind Mrs Page’s phrase in The Merry Wives of Windsor Act iv sc.4, l.50: ‘… and three or four more of their growth we’ll dress/like urchins, ouphes and fairies, green and white …’.  At this time VW was working on Sir John in Love and this passage was incorporated into Act iv sc.i of the opera. See Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.205.
5. In his note Tovey discusses the the E-flat trumpet required for the solo in the second movement and the nature of the seventh note (B-flat) in its series of natural harmonics which VW required (see note on this quoted in Catalogue of Works p.90).


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All of this letter except postscript in the hand of AVW signed by VW.

Cobbe 158
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