from Holst, Gustav, 1874-1934 to Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958

Letter No. VWL5228

Letter from Gustav Holst to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: VWL5228


Saturday [1903]

Dear RVW

We remain here until next Saturday when we bicycle into the Tyrol for a week only and then come home to England. Do you think that is sensible? It will leave me with enough money to do without a Worms job1 so that I can stick at home and write. Munich is lovely and so very un-English. We thought of biking to one of the lakes but not too far away though. Do you know any of them? If so just send me a post card with any bit of advice you can give. We should like boating and bathing above everything else.


This is going to be a ‘continued in our next’ letter. I sent a Wedding March to Howard2 which I hope he got in time. Last night we went to Brand!!!3 We crawled home after it in a state of collapse. It was done in the Schauspielhaus – do you know it? It is a new theatre and by far the most beautiful one I have ever seen. We go to Faust on Monday at the new Wagner theatre. Also there is an opera company from Milan coming on Tuesday. I want to see Puccini’s ‘Manon Lescaut’ and Donizetti’s ‘Lucia’ done by real live Italians in their own way. Then on Friday we finish up with ‘Rosmersholm’ at the Schauspielhaus. At the opera we have seen Otello and a first-rate Meistersinger. As regards the parts, if you don’t do the Rhapsody at College may my wife finish copying on our return?
Now then!
I quite agree about having things done – the more the merrier except when CVS4 ruins things at orchestra. Do that cantata by all means. Strange to say I decided to try and write one when we were in Berlin only I don’t know of any words. I am sure the feeling of the coming actual performance will be good for us. As regards the classics, I was not thinking so much about details of technique as of the ‘other thing’. I think that if we were thoroughly grounded in the classics we should not be carried away so much by every new German composer. But I suppose that that is nonsense because Sterndale Bennet, Parry and Stanford probably knew as much about the classics as Wagner or Strauss. Anyhow I feel sure that I don’t know nearly as much Beethoven as you do, especially as regards the chamber music.
Now as regards details of technique I fear I have never given them sufficient thought. And as it is always good to know one’s weak points this is where you are again ahead of me. In fact this question of climaxes rather bewilders me and I shall have to leave it alone until I return. As to how to study I feel rather floored again. But what I personally should like would be to have all Beethoven’s chamber music at my fingers’ ends as Wagner apparently had: to be able to wallow in it – to soak it in and make it part of one’s being. That is my idea. I wish we were better players for then the Cowley Str Wobblers5 would be of great use.
I know that awful kind of laziness you speak of. It is the very devil. But when it is very strong I almost think that it is best to give way to it. One little dodge I sometimes try in order to cure it is to play a lot of my old stuff for ten minutes or so, so as to settle my mind on composition.
As to writing at boiling point. This is th only thing I feel fairly certain about. Writing at boiling point is THE very worst way of composing. Whenever I have done it, it has always turned out badly and the only good that ever came of it was when I was able to work the stuff up afresh the next day into something fairly presentable. It may be different with you but anyway I wouldn’t worry about it.
Before I left Dresden I really managed to see the beauty of Veronese and I think a Rubens crowd is terrific. I always understood that Titian and Raphael were a kind of painters’ Bach and Beethoven. But barring the Sistine I cannot see it all. I like Francia etc much better. By the bye is it my fault or is it a fact that in all creation there is nothing so absolutely and appallingly BLOODY as the average modern German picture. The New Pinakothek is an exaggerated nightmare to me.
G v H 

1. Holst played trombone in a popular orchestra conducted by Stanislaw Wurm.
2. Evlyn Howard-Jones, the pianist.
3. Brand, the play by Ibsen.
4. Charles Villiers Stanford, who took the orchestral class at the Royal College of Music where Holst and VW were students.
5. An amateur string quartet which met in a house in the street where VW lived; it included Nicholas Gatty on violin, VW on viola and Adeline VW on cello.