from Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958 to Glasgow, Mary

Letter No. VWL3113

Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Mary Glasgow

Letter No.: VWL3113

The White Gates,

9th November, 1949.


Dear Miss Glasgow,

I noticed in one of the Minutes of the Arts Council – I cannot for the moment remember whether it was Council, Executive, or Music Panel, that there was a question of performing my “Pilgrim’s Progress”1 at Covent Garden.
As there seems to be a good deal of misunderstanding about this I fear I must inflict on you an account of what exactly happened.
You will remember that some months ago you kindly allowed Mr. White2 to arrange a play-through of the Opera at 4 St. James’ Square to which, among others, Mr. Webster and Mr. Rankl of Covent Garden were invited.3 At the end of the performance they made a few perfunctory remarks like “very interesting” and I heard no more for about two months. I naturally then came to the conclusion that they did not want the Opera and so I approached the Arts Theatre at Cambridge. They, as you know, are very keen on the idea and are determined to do it if the financial side can be arranged.
A little later on I had a letter from Mr. Webster asking if he could see the score of the Opera. I sent it to him but told him that the first performance was already promised to Cambridge if they wanted it. I heard no more for some time. Then Mr. Webster asked me to go and see him and from what he said I could only gather that he wanted me to withdraw my offer to Cambridge and offer it to Covent Garden instead. I told him there was honour even among musicians and that if Cambridge wanted the Opera they must have it.
Mr Webster then suggested that he should write to the Cambridge Arts Theatre and ask them if they really did want it. This, I pointed out to him was tantamount to telling Cambridge that I repented of my bargain, and I asked him not to write.
So please understand that there can be no performance of my “Pilgrim’s Progress” until after it has been produced for the first time at Cambridge.
The Minute I refer to did not seem to make this clear.
Yours sincerely,

R. Vaughan Williams

Miss M.C. Glasgow, C.B.E.,
Secretary General
Arts Council of Great Britain.
(Personal & Confidential)

1.  Catalogue of Works 1951/1.
2.  Eric Walter White, Assistant Secretary of the Arts Council.
3.  David Webster, General Administrator, and Karl Rankl, Music Director, of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.