Vaughan Williams ‘discovered’ English folk song around the turn of the 20th century and thenceforth it informed his compositional style. It also led him to formulate an aesthetic perspective around the idea that intelligibility was paramount for worthwhile art music. This he pitched against the internationalism of both the English art music establishment and of the cosmopolitan modernist tide. While sensitive to such global cultural currents, he insisted that the way to communicate meaningfully beyond one’s borders was to first seek out one’s own heritage. His concerns remain relevant to contemporary discourse on the role of art music in Western culture. As well as addressing these issues, this paper outlined a wider theorisation of musical accessibility/intelligibility in relation to nationalism, cosmopolitanism and the case of Vaughan Williams.