Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Gustav Holst

Letter No.: 
March 20 [1932]

The White Gates
Westcott Road

Dear Gustav

I got the “Intercession” (through Nora Day). Thank you so much.  I like it as much as when you played it to me which is a lot.1
I’ve not had a letter from you - but then I haven’t written one so I don’t deserve one.  But I’m longing for news.  Imogen gave me a wonderful letter to read all about your adventures with the Boston Symphy orch.2
Mrs Herbert Jones spent the aft. with us the other day - & we both liked her enormously - she just sat in a chair after lunch & sang & talked and told us her whole life history.  I’ve been invited to Gregynnogg(?) - & am ½ inclined to go.3
Otherwise I have no particular news except that I’ve written a magnificat for Astra Desmond to sing at the Worcester festival - & that I miss you very much when I want to know how to compose - in [fact] I didn’t realize how much you wrote of my music before.4
I wonder how you enjoy being led by the nose by an American agent - an agent of Foss’s wrote to me and wanted to lead me round America for several months - but I shied off.5

I started this letter some days ago & then something intervened & I broke off.  I do want to know how America goes - & have you time for your own work because I believe the change will produce a great new work from you - but perhaps that will come when you get back - “emotion remembered in tranquillity” etc.

Did I tell you that I am writing a ‘Magnificat’ for Worcester Fest?  The story is as follows:
(a) When I heard Saliva6 in G flat at Gloucester last year I wondered if it wd be possible to lift the words out of the smug atmosphere which has settled down on it from being sung at evening service for so long.  (I’ve tried hard to get the smugness out, I don’t know if I have succeeded - I find it awfully hard to eradicate it.)
(b)  Last year at Gloucester rehearsals Steuart7 (I think) said that it was not quite nice that young unmarried women like Elsie Suddaby should always be singing Magnificats - so Astra Desmond who was there said to me “I’m a married woman with 4 children why don’t you write one for me” - So I promised her if ever I wrote one it should be for her.
Come back soon


1. No.1 of Six Choruses, op.53, H.186, for male voices.
2. Holst had been appointed Horatio Lamb Lecturer in Composition at Harvard University from February to May 1932 and at the same time had been invited to conduct concerts of his own works beforehand in January by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. See Michael Short, Gustav Holst: the man and his music p.303 ff.
3. The sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog Hall, near Newtown, Powys, started the Gregynog Music Festival in this year. The Festival, which became known for its associations with VW, Holst, Elgar and Britten, survived until 1938. It was revived in the 1960s by the University of Wales, which had acquired the Hall after the death of the owners.
4. Magnificat for contralto solo, women's choir, solo flute and orchestra. Catalogue of Works 1932/2.
5. Duncan Mackenzie of the Oxford University Press, New York, whom Holst had engaged to make engagements for him during his visit, at a commission of 20% of the fee. See Michael Short, Gustav Holst: the man and his music p.302.
6. Sir Ivor Atkins, organist at Worcester Cathedral, often referred to by the VW circle as ‘Saliva’. VW is apparently referring to a Magnificat in G flat, but possibly means in fact the Magnificat in G published in 1904.
7. Steuart Wilson.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 158, ff.109-114
General notes: 

Printed with omissions as Letter XXXV in Heirs and Rebels.

Cobbe 211; Heirs and Rebels, Letter XXXV
Original database number: