Letter from Ernest Irving to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
May 30th., 1952.

Ernest Irving
4, The Lawn,
Ealing Green, W.5.

Dear R.V.W.

Thank you for your letter. The only person so far as I know who sees any likeness between the Sixth Symphony and the Scott music is Frank Howes. He said in a postscript to a letter on an entirely different subject, written in April, 1951, “Can you tell me whether the Epilogue in Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony was derived from the film “Scott of the Antarctic”? It raises an aesthetic issue of great interest to me.” He is, of course, a friendly critic and he says in a letter “I am most appreciative of your help, but then of course we are at one in our regard for the composer.”
In a letter to Howes I did say “I think the foundations of Vaughan Williams’s inspiration are set upon generations of music making, thinking and practice, and that in my opinion is where they should be, and not in any mechanical formula or scientific equation. I think some of the modernists forget that the human soul is involved in musical inspiration, though of course the human brain is useful in fashioning the concept.” ..... and later ..... “There is no doubt that all the main themes of Scott were composed ad hoc and inspired by the history of the expedition on which the film was strictly based. They spring from the deep wells of the composer’s mind, from which he draws his ideas, so that, as you say, desolation is the same thing spiritually if expressed by the South Pole, the battlefield, or the Elysian fields. The relations between his musical forms are therefore very deep down and may not produce any actual similarity in musical notes, but only a similar trend in musical thought. With this in mind one can associate the mental processes of the Sixth Symphony with those of the Antarctica without assuming that any actually discarded material was used. You will remember at the lecture I related how the Main Titles music which was written as descriptive of a hero who had failed and died (most real heroes have to do both these things) fitted to a hair’s breadth a scene in the film which was shot months after the music was written.
V-W’s music may then be regarded as different from ordinary film music in that it was directly inspired by the historical Scott and not by Charles Frend’s picture.”
Most of this is pure speculation and it may be that you yourself have the best knowledge of what goes on in your mind (though I don't think so!).
Beyond that, I have said nothing about the derivation of the Antarctica, but I enclose you a paragraph from the Daily Telegraph. I don’t know where he got that information, but it was certainly not from me.
I have had an hour’s talk this morning to Howes and have left him in no doubt that the Sixth Symphony and Scott have no material in common and that it is quite likely that you were considering the Antarctic as a symphonic subject before the film was mooted. Howes is remodelling his book in accordance with these facts.
I hope this clears the matter up and am sorry you have been bothered about it.
Yours ever

Ernest I.


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