The ambiguity of King Edward’s status in the year following Queen Victoria’s death, is no clever wordplay to deal with the 299 alternative. It is something suggested to me by William Shakespeare in person:
In the Dramatis Personae of his ‘Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is England’s last but one Plantagenet king listed as: Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward the Fifth. ‘Afterwards’ being as early as the second scene of act two, but having waited exactly two acts for his coronation to take place, Edward Plantagenet dies at the age of twelve. In consequence the DP remains the play’s sole reference to the boy as a king. In the dialogue he remains a prince throughout, and even in his appearance as a ghost two years after his death. And thus Shakespeare establishes a twillight zone in the status of the successor between coronation as the formal, and the traditional proclamation as the effective moment of succession: “The king is dead: long live the king!”
Therefore both overall results make a valid interval between reigns. Intervals that were, by the way, no common knowledge in 1896, the cycle’s official year of completion, which comfirms the redating to the early twentieth century. Of course this does not guarantee the partsongs to date from King Edward’s reign, RVW might have been cautious and law obiding enough to postpone his subversive action unto, let us say, 1911, when it was no criminal act any longer. Making it very important to pinpoint the year a little more precise than somewhere between 1900 and 1914.
In the case of the Musical Offering this task is assigned to non-existent bars, but this does not prevent the real ones to add up to the receiver’s name (see the next chapter). Implicating that alternative countings are no excuse to neglect the original 112 bars of the partsongs. Is it possible for them to reveal the information we need?
I started my attempts to derive something from these bars, by determining whether 112 has a multiple equalling a year within RVW’s span of life; and it indeed has: 112 x 17 = 1904. This is the third/ fourth year of Edward’s reign, and the partsongs were first published in the corresponding year in the reign of his successor. If it was no matter of high treason, this would be a highly satisfying result. Now it raises the nasty question why seventeen should be the multiplier RVW had in mind.
Untill now the only way I have found to derive ‘17’ from the partsongs, is to calculate the difference between SD and TWS: 50 – 33 bars. Which seems reasonable enough, provided the other differences make sense as well: 50 – 29 = 21, and 33 – 29 = 4. And look and behold, there is not even the need of reversing something to hit a jackpot:
(SD – TWS) – (SD – OMM) – (TWS – OMM)
17 (av. : 19) 21 04
Compare the first couple of numbers with the classic alphabet to decypher the signature. It looks convincing; the combination of date and signature is a standard feature of official statements. Yet, apart from the signature being incomplete, there are three drawbacks. The dating is inconsistent to begin with; 19 and 04 are produced by different procedures. And although the average of the signature seems to superfluous, because untill very recently 1904 has had ’04 as the proper abbreviation, it is crucial in its copying of the centre stages of the regrouping sequence:
Sweet Day – The willow song – O mistress mine
An even bigger problem is the multiple use of data: I wonder how a mathematician would estimate the chances to combine three numbers to both a signature and the genuine date of this signature. Especially with this same combination being assigned to serve so much other purposes as well.
The principal drawback, however, is committing high treason for Vaughan Williams to be absolutely out of character. But his own dating is no better. RVW to reproach the Prince of Wales somewhere in the 1890s is equally impossible, and only a reliable dating in the period 1910 – 1913 would convincingly explain away his assault on Edward VII. The insertion of this incriminating ‘1904’ therefore contributes heavily to the paradoxal character of the partsongs. If done purposedly, the composer should have had a very good reason for it; the music being written during the reign of Edward VII, for instance.
Balancing these arguments, I am inclined to dismiss any other option as even more unlikely, whatever the consequences for RVW’s reputation may be. And with the field of investigation narrowed to the period 1901-1910, the composer’s own choice is as good as any other.
This choice for 1904 fixes the shift in time for O Mistress Mine and TheWillow Song on thirteen years, and for Sweet Day on eight. Numbers that bring us back to that other music intended to please a king. Vaughan Williams was a Bach interpreter of some reputation, so it stands to reason to assume he was familiar with the Musical Offering. Which might explain why his own musical surprise reproduces for intervals in time its key numbers: the original Musical Offering of 7-7-1747 consists of eight pieces, the complete cycle of thirteen. This unexpected reference to Bach now suggests RVW’s offer to Edward VII to be incomplete without a dedication letter, and because Royal archives are supposed to preserve such correspondence for eternity, it should still be there (alas, there is no trace of it). Like the copy – or even an answering letter – should be in the composer’s personal archive. Which I haven’t been able to locate.
Without tracing a dedication letter I have probably pushed too far, but this combination of dates is convincing enough to decide RVW has connected ‘1904’ by design to ‘1891’ and ‘1896’.
The website of the RVW Society dates the partsongs 1899 (previously 1898). I therefore can’t rely on the dates 1891 & 1896 in my cd-booklet to originate from RVW himself. And without his co-operation my research is partly based on quicksand.
Making this new date as the year of composition as artificial, and unreliable, as the ones it should replace. Which is the best imaginable result this attempt to redate the partsongs could have achieved. Instead of a take-it-or-leave-it result, we ave arrived at a year of composition that must be accepted in order to prove it wrong. Meaning that RVW has shown us straight back to square one, with a perfect reversal of the original paradox as presented in the second paragraph below the Burn quotation in the year of living dangerously.