The composers Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams formed a close personal friendship that began during their student years at the Royal College of Music in 1895 and lasted until Holst’s death in 1934. Their friendship is reflected in their surviving correspondence, which includes invaluable information about their compositions and musical activities, as well as their thoughts on music.

The Pastoral Symphony was among the works by Vaughan Williams that Holst liked the most. On 31 August 1933 he attended a performance of the symphony conducted by the composer himself and in a letter to him the following day wrote:

‘Dear R

Thanks for letter re the concerto.  I can quite believe that a slow pace for the fugue would make a big difference.  How I wish I could have heard it.  Thanks also for sending Jane's Wassail.

It is difficult to thank you for last night because I’ve said it all before. I went expecting a real treat but I doubt if I’ve ever been so carried away by it before – which is saying a great deal.

And I’m going to repeat myself – it’s the very essence of you. Which is one of the two reasons (the other being that it is a beautiful work of art) why it is such an important event in my life.

It was a stroke of either a) genius, or b) unconscious humour, to do it just after Hindemith. It reminded me of the first definite idea of life I learnt while still in my cradle. Namely, that music is a nice thing.