Letter from Olin Downes to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
August 25, 1943

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Esq.
White Gates,
Westcott Road.
Dorking, England

Dear Mr Williams1:
I learn with great interest from our correspondent, Mr. Bonavia, that your Fifth Symphony was played last July at a Promenade Concert and find with even greater pleasure from Artur Rodzinski, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society, that he will give this score its American premiere as soon as he can get the score and the parts this coming season.  In fact, I urged upon Dr. Rodzinski the desirability, if the music could be secured soon enough, that he put it on his opening program October 7.  However, that is merely a wish of mine, based upon the very great pleasure that I personally have in your music and the further fact that such a gesture of artistic raprochement2 between your nation and mine would be a find3 thing, especially at this time.

May I say without offense that I am particularly eager to hear this work, because Bonavia mentions that it is a reversion to your earlier style, and I am one of the unregenerates who has not been able perhaps to enter adequately into the essential quality of your Fourth Symphony, or fully to appreciate this work at its ultimate value.  From my own standpoint and probable limitations, I can't feel it to be as profoundly authentic a score as the "London" and the "Pastoral" symphonies, both of which are very near my heart.  I suppose it would be too much to ask, not for publication but purely for my own enlightenment, how you feel about the Fourth Symphony in its relation to your other works.  In all probability you will answer me that, in the first place, you express what you think in symphonies in those symphonies and gladly leave it to your public and the critics to discern whatever values they may find in them.  Nevertheless, I am very curious because when I encounter a score by such a true and eminent artist as yourself, I want to remove my misunderstanding of it if I can possibly do so and if you should ever have the time or the inclination to say a word on this subject, I should greatly appreciate it - while on the other hand there is not the slightest reason why you should take the trouble to answer this, especially at this time in the world, if you are not moved to do so.  What I really want you to know is how deeply I and so many others in America value your art and how much it has meant to us and how exceptional, to my mind, is the truly creative place that you have in the literature of contemporaneous music.

With best wishes and hopes of much more music from your pen in the future, I am
Sincerely yours,
Olin Downes

Excuse typing.  It is easier for you to read.  And forgive me if I am bothering you.

1.  sic.
2.  sic.
3.  sic.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/15, ff.82-83

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Olin Downes Papers, MS688, B63, F19
General notes: 

Typewritten; postscript added by hand.

Atlas, Allan W., “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Olin Downes: Newly Uncovered Letters”, Journal of the RVW Society No. 60 (June, 2014)
Original database number: