Letter from Edward J. Dent to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
27 April 1951

Dear Vaughan Williams,

I hope you were pleased with the performance of the Pilgrim last night, and with the way in which the audience were completely absorbed by it and gave it the tribute of a definite silence at the end.  I felt very conscious all the time of the audience's tense concentration on the work.  As I have myself a deep-rooted inherited Quakerism (though I have never been able to live up to it!) I can very willingly make a complete surrender to a work of that kind, although most of my friends would not think it possible.  The performance last night was a great deal better than the rehearsal the day before.  What impressed me very deeply was the complete sense of what the Germans call "Weihe" on the stage - a thing they know well and respect in the theatre, whereas Italians have no sense of it at all and Viennese hardly any; it is the utter self-surrender and self-dedication of all the performers to a great work of art.  English people are fully capable of it, but we only get it in the theatre at Oxford and Cambridge, never (until last night) in the professional Opera House.  It has a practical and technical result too, for it produced really beautiful singing from everybody and a surprisingly clear and intelligent enunciation of the words, such as I have never heard a Covent Garden before.  I felt indeed thankful to escape from the influences of Milan and Vienna!
Leonard Hancock managed his job with great skill and understanding, I thought; he made the whole orchestra sing - which is always very necessary in your music - and never go for orchestral virtuosity.  He reserved that for the one moment of Apollyon where the brass blared out with ostentatious brilliance very appropriately.  The other brass ensembles such as the opening hymn had a noble sonority and dignity which few conductors of today seem to understand.  Leonard seems to have a very good sense of rhythm and continuity; he always kept the music moving on and never let it become static, however slow, and I thought him extremely skilful in his management of those horribly difficult moments so characteristic of yourself where there is nothing but an oboe and a solo viola, or something like that - very beautiful thoughts, but most difficult to make clear to an audience and hold their interest with them.
I expect the management is wise not to give more than three performances; people will run no risk of getting tired of the work and will realize that it is a thing to hear as something apart from the general repertory, and they will want to hear it again next year and I hope for many years after that.

General notes: 

Printed in Catalogue of Works, pp.208-209. To be checked against original when located.

Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.208-209.
Original database number: