Item 3 - Letter from Donald Tovey to R. C. Trevelyan

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Letter from Donald Tovey to R. C. Trevelyan


  • 14-17 July 1907 [postmark] (Creation)

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1 item: letter with envelope.

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Englefield Green, Surrey. - Thanks Trevelyan for 'Henry Adney' [Ariadne: i.e. Trevelyan's first draft of the libretto for "The Bride of Dionysus" and apologises for not acknowledging receipt sooner. Will calculate the length of scenes and the whole, but does not think it will need much altering; suggests replacing the Satyr and his song [Act III, Scene II] with a second chorus of Maenads, and ending the work with a 'short Bacchic-philosophic chorus' modelled on an earlier 'captive-chorus'. Is already very excited about the work, and feels it has 'any amount of poetry & contrast & flow': sketches out the moods of the four acts. Miss Weisse also thinks it very beautiful. Is not sure when he will be able to begin, but will try some 'crude extempore experiments' very soon; doesn't expect major rhythmic difficulties, though he may have to sacrifice certain 'verbal rhythmical effects' which will not be noticeable when set to music. Trevelyan can publish his poem before the opera is ready, as long as they ensure the rights do not interfere with those of the poem: it would be awkward if the opera had to be published without words, or if Richard Strauss were to 'combine Ariadne with an operatic version of Bernard Shaw's Philanderer' before he was ready. Will 'agitate at Oxford' as soon as he starts composition, and ask for help 'in wire-pulling & preparing the ground'. It will be a 'large undertaking' and he fears his intention of doing it with 'a pre-Wagnerian orchestra' will not be feasible; will know more when he has sketched out the first act, and will do it for a small orchestra if he can.

Tovey returns to the letter 'three days later', with about twenty pages of detailed suggestions for the libretto: some of these are alterations of a word or two, others suggestions for additions or rearrangements, to best suit Tovey's conception of the characters and / or musical needs. Has other suggestions which he will make later. Emphasises that most of his alterations are very slight, a line or two only, except for the speeches of Minos and Dionysus in which he has suggested new arguments. Thinks Trevelyan has chosen a splendid story and succeeded despite Tovey's 'croaking'; he has written a play which 'cries out for music & is unlike any opera-book... that has ever been seen.' Will soon be 'boiling over with themes & contrasts'; finds it significant that all the musical ideas he has begun to have so far are connected with points which are 'most entirely [Trevelyan's]', who has taken up Tovey's past suggestions patiently but made them his own; he therefore has no hesitation in sending 'all this screed of details' as he knows Trevelyan will make of them something better than he could have imagined.

Gets through the first act in his head with extempore music, probably a little quick, in forty minutes; this is 'not very alarming' for four hundred lines out of fifteen hundred and fifty lines. Wishes Trevelyan would publish the text 'nicely got up' like his "Polyphemus", and omitting any alterations made by Tovey which are 'merely musical or practical'; it would 'aid its career as an opera if it is understood as literature' beforehand and even performed as such, maybe with choruses set to Tovey's music. Invites Trevelyan, his wife and son, to see 'the Miltonic Arcades' [at Northlands?] for which he has composed the songs.

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An annotation on the envelope: 'I do think it so good dear Mr Trevelyan' may be by Sophie Weisse.

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