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working with vaughan williams: some newly discovered manuscripts

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Text of working with vaughan williams: some newly discovered manuscripts


    Roy Douglas

    IN tbe Autumn of 1988 tbe British Librarypublished Working with Vaughan Williams^ myaccount of eleven years spent as musicalassistant to tbe composer, and of tbe friendshipwhich grew up between us during that time.Tbe volume prints in full seventy-four letterswritten to me by Vaugban Williams, inter-woven witb an explanatory commentary andpersonal narrative; it is illustrated with exam-ples of some of tbe manuscripts and docu-ments from wbicb I bad to work.^

    Since publication, furtber relevant materialbas come to ligbt, and I have been able to addtbis to tbe Britisb Library's now extensivecollection of manuscripts of Vaugban Williams.As well as the additional letter^ (printed in fullbelow), tbere are tbirty-two pages of queries^relating to the Eighth Symphony (composed in1953-6). Part of my job was to provide legiblecopies of Vaughan Williams's scores, in tbeprocess tidying up tbe kind of errors oftenfound in manuscripts written out in tbe beat ofcomposition, not to mention puzzling out bissometimes illegible handwriting. (Tbe manycomplications involved in tbis simple soundingtask are described in tbe book.) Wben directconsultation was not possible, I would sendtbrougb tbe post hsts of queries, written out onmusic paper, concerning doubtful-looking de-tails in his scores, such as discrepancies ofsbarps or fiats, adjustments of dynamics, andsometimes corrections of actual notes whichlooked wrong to me. Vaughan Williams wouldscribble his replies on these sheets and returntbem to me.

    It was possible to illustrate Working withVaughan Williams witb a page from thecomposer's autograph full score of the EighthSymphony showing how some of the problemsraised in tbe letters bad been solved (plates 6,

    7), but I bad thought that all the query sheetsfor this symphony bad been lost long ago,^ sothis is a particularly welcome discovery. Someof the composer's replies (often themselvesbarely legible) are typical of his wry sense ofhumour at his own expense. For example, threesmall queries about apparently wrong noteswere briefly answered thus:

    Wbat tbe devil tbe E is doing tbere I cannotimagine!I cannot remember wbat I meant but I tbink I preferF sbarp.I am a bloody fool. Trb pt sbd be...

    Inadvertently be bad written a note for thepiccolo which was below its compass; heconfessed to making tbis tiny error, declaringwitb humorous self-reproach:

    As before I am a bloody fool - I knew that perfectly- pure carelessness (Dr Jobnson)

    In response to my doubts concerning someItalian words, be assured me:

    Yes I believe tbat is correct Italian - after consultingseveral dictionaries - do you know any live Italians

    At a climax in tbe last movement be hadwritten a glissando - a vigorous sweeping of thehammer to and fro - across the tubular bells. Ipointed out that this might result in a full Dmajor scale being used, rather than the five-note scale whicb be wanted, and I proposed analternative. Also I warned him that tbeglissando migbt 'drown everytbing else'. Thereplies to my suggestions were written in aparticularly spidery example of his 'caco-grapby' (bis own word for bis band writing).Wben at last decipbered, his comments werefound to be optimistic, though not entirelyconfident:

    I understood tbat tbe bell merchant only bangs uptbe bells be wants wbicb will (wd ?) make tbe gliss

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  • feasible - otherwise we must adopt your suggestion- I will risk total immersion - Ive never beard tbebells enougb yet in any music

    A couple of perplexities in the last movementneeded decisive elucidations from tbe com-poser. Eacb of these concerned a passage in tbefull score wbicb was one bar sborter tban tbecorresponding passage in his short score (a kindof piano sketch). In each instance I asked himif be wanted to insert tbe missing bar in tbe fullscore. For tbe first of tbese problems bissolution was firm and concise:

    No, we will leave it out! wbat I originally meant Icant remember.

    In answer to my query on the second of thesepassages, bis laconic (and surely tongue-in-cbeek) verdict was:

    Keep as in score - tbe less of tbis movement we bavetbe better!

    Tbe letter, dating from 1953, providesfurtber evidence of Vaugban Williams'stbougbtfulness and generosity to otbers in biscomments on my work in drawing up anorcbestral suite from bis 1949 cantata FolkSongs of the Four Seasons} It also documentstbe final stages in tbe minor but fascinatingstory of bis eventual acceptance of the correctform of tbe name for bis Seventb Sympbony.Tbe letter is in Vaugban Williams's bandtbrougbout, and is written on paper printedwitb bis address of Tbe Wbite Gates, Dorking.

    Jan 5 1953Dear RoyHere are your notes witb my commentsAs regards tbe title I feel tbat you bave put sucb alot of work into it tbat tbe cbief credit ougbt to beyours - so I am proposing to tbe OUP tbe title

    Roy DouglasFolk songs of tbe four seasons

    Suite for orcbestrafounded on tbe Cantata of tbe same name by

    R. Vaugban Williams

    By tbe way tbe pundits bave discovered tbat' Antartica' is correct Italian - so I bave bad to climbdown!


    From a comparison between tbis letter andtbe rest of our correspondence it becomes cleartbat altbougb Vaughan Williams was aware oftbe Italian form Sinfonia Antartica, be waspersuaded to abandon his preferred Antarcticaonly at the very last moment:^ tbe firstperformance of tbe sympbony was given by theHalle Orchestra, under Sir John Barbirolli, atthe Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 14January 1953.

    I am grateful for tbe help of Arthur Searle, Curatorof Music Manuscripts at tbe Britisb Library, in tbepreparation of tbis article.

    1 Roy Douglas, Working with Vaughan Williams(London, 1988). Tbis is an extensive revisionand expansion of my Working with R. V. W.(London, 1972).

    2 Now BL, Add. MS. 63547 A, f 63*.3 Now part of Add. MS. 65533, wbicb also

    contains similar material relating to Act iii of tbeopera Pilgrim's Progress and to Vaugban Wil-liams's arrangement for cborus and orcbestra ofTbe Old Hundredtb Psalm Tune.

    4 Similar query sbeets for tbe Nintb Sympbonyare in Add. MS. 50382; see Working withVaughan Williams., pi. 10.

    5 Folk Songs of the Four Seasons, Suite, arrangedfor small orcbestra from tbe cantata of tbe samename, by Roy Douglas (London, 1956); seeWorking with Vaughan Williams, p. 41.

    6 Ibid., p. 52; Micbael Kennedy, The Works ofVaughan Williams (London, 1964), p. 322.


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