from Peterkin, Norman, 1886-1982 to Milford, Humphrey Sumner, Sir, 1877-1952
Letter No. VWL1641
Memorandum from Norman Peterkin to Sir Humphrey Milford
Letter No.: VWL1641
April 24th 1942
Sir Humphrey S. Milford1
I had hoped to see him round about Easter but he expressed a wish to leave it until after the 18th of month.
He phoned me last Monday to ask could he come and see me next day as he wished to lodge some MSS with us and could also discuss other matters. This I thought typical of him for a Walton would either march in without warning in advance or simply phone to say he was on the way.
Vaughan Williams spent some considerable time with me, looking more like an Ancient Briton than ever, but perceptibly aged since I met him last. This would be well before the Foss business of last July though of course I have frequently talked with him on phone.
I do not think Foss’s departure has made any difference at all to Vaughan Williams’ feelings about the O.U.P. or his relations with us. I am sure he has not the least intention of going to any other publisher, even if he were approached, which I gather has not been the case. Indeed he assured me of this himself. This too is borne out by the fact that on several occasions he has referred B.B.C and other bodies, and also conductors to me in matters connected with his works, unpublished and published, and told them they must secure necessary permissions from me.
Naturally Foss was mentioned and V.W. said he had written to him a very nice letter at the time of his resignation; and that he had been extremely sorry over what had happened, but that he supposed Foss would be sure to get a good permanent job.
To my complete astonishment he remarked that he had always thought the partnership (his word) of Foss and myself in the Music Department as the ideal one; of me as the elder brother and steadying influence, and what a great pity the partnership had come to an end. I share the view, but was surprised for I had no idea that V.W. had ever given a thought to my existence or function in the department, or that he had any inkling that I had some share in building it up.
From remarks he dropped he undoubtedly had been given the impression that we would not be publishing, or scarcely at all, till the war was over. This came out when I mentioned that I had just sent him the first proofs of his arrangement of Meyerbeer’s “Blessing of the Swords” (a work accepted by Foss) and said I was sorry it had taken so long to get them through. He at once expressed surprise and said he had taken it for granted we would not be getting it out at all and that it would have to wait.
I assured him we would continue to get out what was possible within the limits imposed on all publishers by the paper quota and the manufacturing difficulties, and that there certainly was no change in the policy of the department.
He left with me for safe keeping various works in MS, saying he did not want to consider their publication as yet, and I notice that most of them are marked ‘for revision’. They are
Concerto for Oboe and Strings (not performed to my knowledge)2
Epithalamium-Ballet-Edmund Spenser (the spelling is that of V.W. not mine)
Double Trio for Strings. (performed about 2 years ago)
The Lake in the Mountains (Piano Solo)3
He also told me the score of an unfinished symphony was in Foss’s hands and that he was asking him to send it on to me.4
I think this must be the work that Foss mentioned to me some time after his resignation, and about which for some obscure reason he was most mysterious. Foss said V.W. did not want its existence known (he would not tell me the name of it); but that V.W. earlier on had asked him to arrange to run through a piano duet version of it before a few personal friends. Foss said he would try and get me invited to the hearing! When later I referred to the matter Foss maintained his secretive attitude and I do not know if the hearing ever came off.
V.W. mentioned also a “Hymn for Airmen” he had done and asked had it been sent to me. He said Sir Hugh Allen had wanted to have it saying he would approach the O.U.P. about publishing it. V.W. rather dryly said that seemed hardly necessary, but as Allen had asked and liked to do things that way he had let him have it. When I told him I had heard nothing of it he said he expected to get it back from Allen and would send it in to me.
On my side I raised the question of now doing something with his “Household Music-Three Preludes on Welsh Airs”. This is music so written as to be playable by String Quartet or any other alternative wind or brass instruments available. This fairly recent work was of course known to Foss but was not available for publication, since following his usual custom V.W. likes to get performances first, put aside and revise before printing.
It was written for the Blech String Quartet and they have given several performances and broadcast it. Now the Griller Quartet, probably the finest English group are to do it at a Boosey-Hawkes Concert on June 1st and it is again to be broadcast. It has been excellently reviewed and we have had very many inquiries for it.
It is not a big work and I suggested to V.W. that we should try and print the score but produce the parts for both strings and alternative wind by lithographic process as we could save using paper from our quota by this means, as we have the special paper needed and have just secured further supplies as it is non quota material.
V.W. remarked that Foss always produced beautiful scores but did not pay sufficient attention to the parts which in his view were more important, and that he would rather see good engraved parts got out. It is true that some of our lithographed parts are deplorable, but when I showed V.W. the parts done on the opalograph machine by Mr Negus for the Rathaus String Quartet he agreed they were excellent, and is quite ready to leave matter[s] to me. It may be possible to do both Score and Parts by this method and I am to go into this and will bring it before you in due course.
The other work I was holding is a set of 10 or 12 carols – chiefly from the Oxford Carol Book – arranged by V.W. for male voice chorus at the request of the British Council for performance by H.M. Forces in Iceland.
When this cropped up first last November, V.W. left the business end of the matter in my hands and I fixed things with the British Council reserving all rights to the composer and O.U.P.
The Council have recently returned the MS to me after the Iceland performance and are most anxious to have printed copies from us. I told Miss Henn Collins we would certainly try and put them into print in good time for next season, and I intended to discuss first with V.W. then place [the] matter before you. V.W. is keen himself on getting them out and has taken the MS for final look through.
There is not any doubt in my mind that both “Household Music” and the Male Voice Carols will do well and be bread and butter Vaughan Williams for the O.U.P..
In conclusion I think Vaughan Williams was pleased with our talk, and he certainly was most pleasant to me. Whilst he was with me Walton arrived at Soho Square, as usual not having warned me. The Show Room girls told him I was engaged with V.W. and reported later that Walton remarked “I suppose the old buffer is going to monopolise him all morning”. He then sent through a message that he would come back in half an hour to see me.
He had apparently been waiting a few minutes when I took V.W. out. I left them talking together and afterwards heard that when V.W. learned Walton had been waiting to see me apologised to him for keeping me engaged. According to the girls V.W. was far nicer to W than W was to him, and W is not considered to be a gentleman I gather!
Walton came into my room remarking “well the old pussy cat has gone at last”. I suppose I must have shown some astonishment for he went on to say that “of course V.W. was a really big pussy with very sharp claws”, and was “the biggest intriguer of the lot”; that it was astonishing how nobody realised it (except W.W. apparently) and how he managed to get away with it as a result.
I simply cannot comment on this for it runs completely counter to my conception of V.W. But I have seen but little of him.
1. Publisher to the University.
2. Catalogue of Works 1944/1. The fact that the concerto was ready as early as 1942 may imply that it was written earlier than Kennedy indicates in Works of Vaughan Williams, p.285.
3. Catalogue of Works 1947/4, an arrangement of music written for an episode in 49th Parallel, eventually published in 1947.
4. The Fifth Symphony, Catalogue of Works 1943/2.
Musical Works:Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Household musicVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Carols for male voicesVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. EpithalamionVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Concertos, oboe, string orchestraVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Double trio, string sextetVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Lake in the mountainsVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Airmen's hymnMeyerbeer, Giacomo, 1791-1864. Huguenots. Conjuration et Bénédiction des poignards. arr.Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Blessing of the swordsVaughan Williams, Ralph, 1872-1958. Symphonies, no. 5, D major
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