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Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an influential British composer and folk-song collector.  His powerful and expressive orchestral music is notable for its very “English” sound.  His early adventures collecting folk songs in the English countryside profoundly influenced his later compositions.  Along with Gustav Holst, his works for wind band form a foundation for the serious literature in that medium.

The English Folk Song Suite is one of those foundational works. It was written in 1923 and premiered at Kneller Hall, home of Britain’s finest military music academy.  It uses as its source material several English folks songs.  It is cast in 3 movements: a “March” subtitled “Seventeen Come Sunday”; an “Intermezzo” on “My Bonny Boy”; and another “March” subtitled “Folk Songs from Somerset”, which incorporates several different tunes.  A good summary of the movements and the folk songs involved in each is available at Wikipedia.  The original composition also included a fourth movement, Sea Songs, which Vaughan Williams later decided to publish separately.  While the English Folk Song Suite is a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire, it is not fully demonstrative of Vaughan Williams’s compositional powers.  Only the “Intermezzo” approaches the harmonic daring and lyricism that mark the rest of his work.  The remainder of the piece is a fairly straightforward, faithful setting of the folk songs.

Program notes on the Suite.

For curiosity’s sake, here’s a Facebook discussion board dedicated to the Suite.

A chapter on British wind band music from an online History of the Wind Band by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes. Vaughan Williams and the English Folk Song Suite feature prominently.

So now let’s listen to the Eastman Wind Orchestra (one of the best in the world) play these movements:

The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society – the source for anything you might ever possibly want to know about the composer.

Vaughan Williams on Wikipedia.

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] English Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams […]

  2. By Fall 2011 Recap « Andy Pease's Wind Band Blog on 12 Dec 2011 at 8:24 am

    […] English Folk Song Suite – Ralph Vaughan Williams (2nd movement) […]

  3. […] Arnold/Paynter – Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre” Erickson – Air for Band Grainger – Irish Tune from County Derry and Lincolnshire Posy Holst – First Suite in E-flat Ives – Variations on “America” Milhaud – Suite Francaise Persichetti – Psalm for Band Schuman – Chester Stuart – Three Ayres from Gloucester Ticheli – Sun Dance Whitacre – Sleep Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite […]

  4. By Fall 2013 Recap | Andy Pease's Wind Band Blog on 08 Dec 2013 at 9:33 pm

    […] English Folk Song Suite – Ralph Vaughan Williams […]

  5. […] has a long and proud tradition of weaving folk songs into its identity, from the days of Holst and Vaughan Williams to modern treatments by such figures as Donald Grantham and Frank Ticheli. Whereas these composers […]

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