Letter from Edwin Evans to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
May 8th, 1922.

My dear Vaughan Williams,

If I thought that your view of this affair was representative I should obviously have declined the compliment very promptly.  But do you think seriously that there is behind it any suggestion of rewarding me for praise given?  From conversations that I have had, I have gathered a very different impression altogether - that the proposed tribute was less to the journalist than to the fellow worker.  I should be very sorry to think that it had anything to do with the opinion I have formed of any individual composer’s work.  When I began my work exactly twenty years ago the cause of modern music in general and of modern British music in particular was an unpopular one, and I see in this affair a recognition of the fact that I took upon myself to share its unpopularity.  It has many friends now, but it has gratified me exceedingly to discover that a few people have long memories.  You must remember that I have paid a heavy price for having from the beginning associated myself with the workers.  The prizes of journalism go not to those who join crusades, but to those who voice the opinion of the majority.  These, who were hostile or apathetic when the public was hostile or apathetic, are now as well disposed to you all as the public has since become.  Even so, glaring instances of opportunism still occur, as when a certain critic found “The Planets” uninteresting and disappointing at a first hearing but, when its success was assured, pronounced it to be the most remarkable music heard that year.  I cannot look from this point of view at anything that means as much to me as music does.  The result is that no prominent or well-paid post has ever come my way.  In confidence I may tell you that my receipts from the Pall Mall Gazette for the first quarter of this year averaged 33/- weekly.  And you suggest that I should look to audiences or publishers for reward having fought the battle of composers!  How aloof you are from the world you live in!  Reflect a little upon that figure, and upon the fact that I have never possessed private means, and you will recognise that the work I have done in these years would, in any other walk of life, have brought me at least material security, instead of which my life to-day is more precarious than it has ever been, and that simply because I placed certain things which are dear to you and to me before all else.  And you think that I would accept payment for such praise as it has been my privilege to give whilst pursuing this ideal!  The model I have kept before me is Stassoff in his relation to the Five Russian Nationalists,1 but he at least had security in material things.  Further, you speak of me merely as a critic.  Do you believe that my work has been so limited?  Think of the list of performances that have resulted from my initiative.  Have you not heard that I have sometimes been a friend to composers in other and more helpful ways than those of a journalist?  It distresses me to have to speak of my record like this, and I assure you that I have never in my life done so before, but it has pained me very much to think that you believe that I would accept any compliment in such a spirit as your letter describes.  If you have any reason for believing that this is the idea which has prompted your confreres to take this course, I trust that you will let me know, so that I can make quite clear what I feel on the subject.2
Yours cordially

[Edwin Evans]

1. Vladimir Stasov, who coined the phrase 'the mighty handful' for Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky.
2. The occasion of this letter was either Evans’ nomination as Chairman of the British Section of the newly founded International Society for Contemporary Music or the proposal to hold a dinner in his honour, which in fact took place on 21st January 1923 at Pagani’s. Many composers were present but not, apparently, VW. See obituary piece on Edwin Evans in the Musical Times March 1945.


Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/6, ff.10-12
Cobbe 128
Original database number: