Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Adrian Boult

Letter No.: 
18th March, 1953.

The White Gates,
Dorking, Surrey.

Dear Adrian

It was wonderful of you to come the other night, and your praise has been a great stimulus.1
As regards standing up to sing, of course I do not hear all the clatter and noise from where I stand and I feel, during a long session like that people like to stand up occasionally.  I do not think they would join in so well if they sang sitting down, but I admit the clatter and interruption is annoying.
As regards how I do the different chorales, I am afraid I have no principles but do what I think is going to sound best.  There are one or two considerations, however.  I can only ask the audience to join in the ones they know well; I am gradually adding to the number, and some of the more meditative ones I feel can be sung softly unaccompanied.  You mention, “Thy will be done”.  This seems to me ought to be meditative and soft, not an agonised shout like “’Tis I”, and the same applies, of course, to the very soft chorale “Be with me, Lord”.
Sometimes the effect was meant to be purely musical as when, in the chorale with two verses I have the first verse sung solo quartette and then answered by the whole body of people.  Sometimes the reason is dramatic as in the chorale after “Let Him be crucified”, which obviously has to stand out as something different from the shout that has gone before it.  If I had sufficient singers I would detail a small semi-chorus to sing that off-stage, but by singing with only half the choir very softly we nearly get that effect.
I hope I am gradually improving the general conception of the thing and I shall think over all your ideas very carefully.
Thank you again so much for coming.  I shall tell my singers of your praise.
My love to Ann


(R. Vaughan Williams)

Sir Adrian Boult,
South Hawk,
Woldingham, Surrey

1. Boult had attended a performance of the St Matthew Passion at Dorking.
2. On 23 March Boult replied: ‘How very kind of you to answer so fully. I am afraid I must have said something stupid because I felt that everyone of the chorales was completely and splendidly appropriate, and am quite sure that those in Part II were equally so.  It was just that I jibbed at the interruption even when the Choir only stood up after “Thy Will be done”.  I see no reason why some should not be sung unaccompanied. It was a great performance and the further off it is, the greater it seems - you know what I mean!’ (British Library Add. MS 72624, f.174)

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Add. MS 72624, ff.172-174
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.  Letter and reply printed in Jerrold Northrop Moore, Music and Friends: Seven decades of letters to Adrian Boult (London 1979), pp.157-158.

Cobbe 608; Moore, Music and Friends, pp.157-158
Original database number: