Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Peter Montgomery

Letter No.: 
[About June 1930]

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Peter

I quite agree with Dent’s letter - & I am in the same difficulty as he is about not knowing altogether what your purely technical qualifications are - could you bear a schoolmaster’s job?  I think it best - because those purely technical achievements do not matter so much & character, education & general culture are very important.  But even a schoolmaster has to have a good comprehensive technique & you must decide for yourself whether you have that or wd in a reasonable time be able to acquire it.
I don’t think there’s any career in conducting - no jobs, & lots of very clever young men after them.
As regards study abroad - I venture to think that Dent is too frightened of the foreigner - he is always wondering nervously what the opinion of the foreigner is about us - that does not seem to me to be important (except always insofar as outside opinion is always helpful & stimulating) - if we are to do any good in England for music we must find out the kind & style of music which is best for us - & not make our music a weak imitation of foreign models.  Of course if your ambition in life is to write like Hindemith or Webern you must go to the source to find out how to do it - But is that the best basis for one’s own self-expression?
And to come down to practical things - I don’t know much about German & French organists - but I have an idea that men like Darke, Ley & Ball1 can beat them hollow in style & technique & wd be able to teach & understand the mind of an English pupil.  I know, to my sorrow, how lamentably unthorough the R.C.M.2 is & how badly in need of improvement, & these foreign conservatoires look very imposing on paper - but so does the R.C.M. - and we have no proof that the reality abroad comes up to the advertized advantages any more than the R.C.M.
After all nearly all the musicians of note in England have done most of their study at home - the people who study abroad seem to come to nothing.
Composers           Parry, Elgar, Holst, Bax (exceptions are Sullivan & Stanford)3
Theoreticians       Tovey & Dent4
Organists             Parratt, Lloyd, & the others I have mentioned.5
I admit that in violin & pfte it may be different.  But even here we have Samuel,  Cohen, Hess, Sammons (I believe) & Tertis (I believe).6
No my advice is learn your groundwork here (at the R.C.M. I think) because I know that any one who really wants to work can ground himself thoroughly at the R.C.M. - the fault of the R.C.M. is that largely for financial reasons it is not able to make short work of the slackers.  Then I shd advise 6 months abroad to get new ideas & broaden one’s mind generally.
I don’t believe that a foreign trained musician will ever be able to teach an English schoolboy.
A school job wd give you an opportunity of conducting on a small scale which wd lead on to more.  Wd it be a good plan to come & have an ‘audition’ with some organ or pfte teacher to get an opinion?
As regards going abroad - of course it is easier to settle down to things if you are entirely cut off from your own belongings.
I should love for you to be an active participator in the great job which I am also living for - but the question is the best way.  But I think everything points to acquiring technical command of both theory & practice whatever you finally decide on.7
Our love to all of you
Yrs affectionately

R. Vaughan Williams

1. Harold Darke, Henry Ley and George Thalben-Ball.
2. Royal College of Music.
3. Charles H.H. Parry, Charles Stanford, Gustav Holst, Arnold Bax, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan.
4. Donald Francis Tovey and Edward Dent.
5. Walter Parratt and Charles H. Lloyd.
6. Harold Samuel, Harriet Cohen, Albert Sammons and Lionel Tertis.
7. This letter is similar in content to VWL1537, written to Lord Kennet about his son’s musical education.. See footnote on R.V.W.: a biography, p.243.


Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/8, ff. 89-98
General notes: 

Peter Montgomery was a cousin of VW’s. He gave the following account of his relationship with VW in 1959 in a covering letter sent when he lent his correspondence for copying by Oxford University Press:
9 June 59.  Dear Sir,  In answer to your request for the loan of letters of ‘V.W.’ I have pleasure in sending you the enclosed, mostly written in the earlier 30s. The most interesting one is on top, written to me just after leaving Cambridge in 1930 and advising me about a musical career. There is nothing of import in the others but I send them for perusal in case there might be some chance remark which can fill in a gap or supply a missing link. My mother (Mary Massingberd) was his cousin and about the same age. Her sister Lady Montgomery Massingberd, is still alive, and as she has many early memories of ‘V.W.’ I suggested that she should get in touch with you - also.  Her address is Gunby Hall, Spilsby, Lincs. Yours faithfully Peter Montgomery

P.S. Some of the letters refer to VW’s visit to conduct a concert of his works with the Belfast Philharmonic Society on 17 Feb 1933.  He stayed with my parents (now both dead) here before the concert. P.M.

Cobbe 186
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