Ralph Vaughan Williams: English Folk Songs Suite

Vaughan Williams was a proudly British composer. He adored his homeland, having been born in the idyllic Gloucestershire village of Down Ampney.

Alongside his fondness for native landscapes, Vaughan Williams was also rather sentimental about Britain’s musical history. The existence of military bands was something he recognised as being crucially important to the UK’s cultural and community life. So, in 1923, he composed his English Folk Songs Suite for them.

Today, it’s the orchestrated version of the work, assembled by Gordon Jacob, that we most commonly hear. Beginning with the sprightly march Seventeen Come Sunday, Vaughan Williams then treats us to the beautifully melancholic My Bonny Boy, before concluding in rousing fashion with another march: Folk Songs from Somerset. The suite isn’t restricted to those three melodies alone, though. Instead, all sorts of British folk songs appear along the way, some of them overt and others hidden within this boisterous and catchy set of tunes.

Recommended Recording

Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Neville Marriner (conductor). Classic FM: CFM FW 043.

Illustration: Mark Millington