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.
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.