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Ralph Vaughan Williams, "English Folk Song Suite"

English Folk Song Suite

I. Seventeen Come Sunday

II. My Bonny Boy

III. Folk Songs From Somerset

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Born: October 12, 1872, Down Ampney, United Kingdom

Died: August 26, 1958, London, United Kingdom

Composed: 1923

Duration: 12 minutes

At the turn of the twentieth century, there was a general interest in the recording and utilization of folk musics led by a number of European composers and musicologists. This list that includes such musical luminaries as Béla Bartók, Edvard Grieg, Zoltán Kodály, Percy Grainger, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, many of whom were assisted in their folk song “collection” by newly invented portable recording devices. Folk songs from the British Isles became particularly fruitful foundations for new compositions, many of which were compiled by members of the English Folk Song Society, whose members included the aforementioned Vaughan Williams and Grainger, as well as collectors and composers Lucy Broadwood, Cecil Sharp, and George Butterworth, among others. The wind band has been a primary beneficiary of this English folk revival, with many masterworks composed in the first half of the twentieth century relying on these collected folk melodies.

Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite is a work in three movements that weaves nine folk songs into what Grainger would later call a “posy,” or “collection of musical wildflowers.” At first, the suite included an additional movement, Sea Songs, which was performed as the second movement, but composer removed it after the premiere at Kneller Hall (the Royal Military School of Music) and published on its own.

The first movement, March - Seventeen Come Sunday, features the eponymous folk song (which was also set by both Grainger and Holst) in British march style. The melody to Seventeen Come Sunday, telling the story of a soldier enticing a pretty maid, serves as the first theme, and is followed by the contrasting, lyrical Pretty Caroline, where a sailor returns from war to his beloved. The third strain of the march, is a full, marcato arrangement of Dives and Lazarus, a retelling of the Biblical story and a favorite subject of Vaughan Williams, who also wrote a set of orchestral variations on the melody. The march then returns to Pretty Caroline before restating Seventeen Come Sunday with a final fanfare.

Next follows a slow, haunting arrangement of My Bonny Boy, a painful song of unrequited love first sung by a solo oboe, and subsequently joined by other instrumental colors. Later, a beautiful, swirling arrangement of Green Bushes, another song of unanswered passion, enters in the woodwinds, before giving way again to the original theme.

The final movement of the suite, March – Folk Songs from Somerset, includes four songs, each presented as successive, contrasting themes in march style, all taken from the titular county on the southwestern peninsula of England. It begins with a light, jaunty melody entitled Blow Away the Morning Dew, also known traditionally as The Baffled Knight, which tells the story of a soldier enticed by a fair maiden, only to be teasingly tricked at the last minute. The second folk song, perhaps providing an answer to the first, is a rousing war ballad dating from the War of the Spanish Succession entitled High Germany, where a soldier attempts to entice another fair maiden to accompany him to war on the Continent. The Trio of the march, The Tree So High, tells the story of an arranged marriage between two children, in a conversation between the unhappy daughter and her father. This is answered by the famous tune, John Barleycorn, a tale of a knight battling, in some versions, a miller or a group of drunkards, all of whom want to “chop him down,” which can be interpreted as an allegorical telling of the events in the cultivation and harvesting of barley. Finally, the march repeats da capo, repeating the first two melodies before closing with a flourish.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, English Folk Song Suite, I. "Seventeen Come Sunday"

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, conducted by Frederick Fennell

Ralph Vaughan Williams, English Folk Song Suite, II. "My Bonny Boy"

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, conducted by Frederick Fennell

Ralph Vaughan Williams, English Folk Song Suite, III. "Folk Songs From Somerset"

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, conducted by Frederick Fennell

Folk Song Sources, With Modern Recordings

I. March - Seventeen Come Sunday

Measure 1 - Seventeen Come Sunday

According to Steve Roud and Julia Bishop, of the New Penguin Book of Folk Songs (2012), "This was a widely known song in England, and was also popular in Ireland and Scotland. It is one of those which earlier editors, such as Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp, felt obliged to soften or rewrite for publication. It was also common on broadsides throughout the nineteenth century." As with most folk songs, the lyrics vary widely by source and recording.

As I walked out on a May morning, on a May morning so early, I overtook a pretty fair maid just as the day was a-dawning.

Chorus: With a rue-rum-ray, fol-the-diddle-ay, Whack-fol-lare-diddle-I-doh.

Her eyes were bright and her stockings white, and her buckling shone like silver, She had a dark and a rolling eye, and her hair hung over her shoulder.

Where are you going, my pretty fair maid? Where are you going, my honey? She answered me right cheerfully, I've an errand for my mummy.

How old are you, my pretty fair maid? How old are you, my honey? She answered me right cheerfully, I'm seventeen come Sunday.

Will you take a man, my pretty fair maid? Will you take a man, my honey? She answered me right cheerfully, I darst not for my mummy.

But if you come round to my mummy's house, when the moon shines bright and clearly, I will come down and let you in, and my mummy shall not hear me.

So I went down to her mummy's house, when the moon shone bright and clearly, She did come down and let me in, and I lay in her arms till morning.

So, now I have my soldier-man, and his ways they are quite winning. The drum and fife are my delight, and a pint of rum in the morning.

Measure 33 - Pretty Caroline

Vaughan Williams, a folk song collector himself, acquired Pretty Caroline from a Mrs. Powell of Herefordshire in August of 1908.

One morning in the month of May when brightly shone the sun, Upon the banks of Tilbury stream there sat a lovely one, She did appear a goddess fair, her dark brown hair did shine, It shaded the neck and bosom white of pretty Caroline. I said to her – ‘My pretty maid, do you remember me? I am the jolly sailor which ploughed the Regency, And for courting of a pretty maid her parents did combine, They sent me off in a man of war from pretty Caroline. It’s seven long years since I was bound all for to save the King, Where rattling cannons roared around, which made the deep sea ring, Here’s gold and silver I have brought and freely would resign, Here’s gold and silver for a ring, ‘tis all for Caroline.’ This maiden fair ‘twixt joy and woe away from him she flew – ‘Oh stand away without delay, unless you tell me true; Produce the ring, the braided ring, and a lock of hair of mine, No mortal man shall e’er deceive this faithful Caroline.’ This braided hair and ring of gold young William did her show, Then Caroline and William unto some church did go, Down in some lofty mansion so splendid they did shine, The sailor blessed the month of May he met with Caroline.

Measure 65 - Dives and Lazarus

Dives and Lazarus is a ballad, often sung as a Christmas carol, that was originally collected by Francis James Child, concerning the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the leper, from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-16:31). (Wikipedia). Vaughan Williams also set this folk song in his Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" for string orchestra, which can be heard below.

As it fell out upon a day,

Rich Dives he made a feast,

And he invited all his friends

And gentry of the best.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down,

And down at Dives’ door;

‘Some meat, some drink, brother Dives,

Bestow upon the poor!’—

‘Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,

That lies begging at my door;

No meat nor drink will I give thee,

Nor bestow upon the poor.’

Then Lazarus laid him down and down,

And down at Dives’ wall,

‘Some meat, some drink, brother Dives,

Or with hunger starve I shall!’—

‘Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,

That lies begging at my wall;

No meat nor drink will I give thee,

But with hunger starve you shall.’

Then Lazarus laid him down and down,

And down at Dives’ gate:

‘Some meat, some drink, brother Dives,

For Jesus Christ his sake!’—

‘Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus

That lies begging at my gate;

No meat nor drink will I give thee,

For Jesus Christ his sake.’

Then Dives sent out his merry men,

To whip poor Lazarus away;

They had no power to strike a stroke,

But flung their whips away.

Then Dives sent out his hungry dogs,

To bite him as he lay;

They had no power to bite at all,

But lickéd his sores away.

As it fell out upon a day,

Poor Lazarus sicken’d and died;

Then came two angels out of heaven

His soul therein to guide.

‘Rise up, rise up, brother Lazarus,

And go along with me;

For you’ve a place prepared in heaven,

To sit on an angel’s knee.’

As it fell out upon a day,

Rich Dives sicken’d and died;

Then came two serpents out of hell,

His soul therein to guide.

‘Rise up, rise up, brother Dives,

And go with us to see

A dismal place, prepared in hell,

To sit on a serpent’s knee.’

Then Dives look’d up with his eyes,

And saw poor Lazarus blest:

‘Give me one drop of water, brother Lazarus,

To quench my flaming thirst.

‘Oh had I as many years to abide

As there are blades of grass,

Then there would be an end, but now

Hell’s pains will ne’er be past!

‘Oh was I now but alive again,

The space of one half hour!

Oh that I had my peace secure!

Then the devil should have no power.’

II. Intermezzo - My Bonny Boy

Measure 3 - My Bonny Boy

The following version was collected from George Blake, Bitterne, Southampton, Hants, on May 1906: (Wikipedia)

I once loved a boy and a bonny bonny boy, I loved him I vow and protest, I loved him so well, there's no tongue can tell, Till I built him a berth on my breast.

'Twas up the wild forest and through the green groves Like one that was troubled in mind, I hallooed, I whooped and I blew on my flute But no bonny boy could I find.

I looked up high and I looked down low The weather being wonderful warm; And who should I spy but my own bonny boy Locked fast in another girl's arms.

He took me upon his assembled knees And looked me quite hard in the face, He gave unto me one sweet smile and a kiss But his heart's in another girl's breast.

Now my bonny, bonny boy is across the salt seas And I hope he will safely return; But if he loves another girl better than me Let him take her, and why should I mourn?

Now the girl that enjoys my own bonny boy, She is not to be blamed, I am sure, For many's the long night he have robbed me of my rest But he never shall do it no more.

Measure 43 - Green Bushes

As I was a walking one morning in Spring, For to hear the birds whistle and the nightingales sing, I saw a young damsel, so sweetly sang she: Down by the Green Bushes he thinks to meet me. I stepped up to her and thus I did say: Why wait you my fair one, so long by the way? My true Love, my true Love, so sweetly sang she, Down by the Green Bushes he thinks to meet me. I'll buy you fine beavers and a fine silken gownd, I will buy you fine petticoats with the flounce to the ground, If you will prove loyal and constant to me And forsake you own true Love, I'll be married to thee. I want none of your petticoats and your fine silken shows: I never was so poor as to marry for clothes; But if you will prove loyal and constant to me I'll forsake my own true Love and get married to thee. Come let us be going, kind sir, if you please; Come let us be going from beneath the green trees. For my true Love is coming down yonder I see, Down by the Green Bushes, where he thinks to meet me. And when he came there and he found she was gone, He stood like some lambkin, forever undone; She has gone with some other, and forsaken me, So adieu to Green Bushes forever, cried he.

III. March - Folk Songs From Somerset

Measure 5 - Blow Away The Morning Dew

There was a farmer's son, Kept sheep all on the hill; And he walk'd out one May morning To see what he could kill. Chorus And sing blow away the morning dew The dew, and the dew. Blow away the morning dew, How sweet the winds do blow. He looked high, he looked low, He cast an under look; And there he saw a fair pretty maid Beside the wat'ry brook. Chorus

Cast over me my mantle fair And pin it o'er my gown; And, if you will, take hold my hand, And I will be your own. Chorus

If you come down to my father's house Which is walled all around, And, you shall have a kiss from me And twenty thousand pound. Chorus

He mounted on a milk white steed And she upon another; And then they rode along the lane Like sister and like brother. Chorus

As they were riding on alone, They saw some pooks of hay. O is not this a very pretty place For girls and boys to play? Chorus

But when they came to her father's gate, So nimble she popped in: And said: There is a fool without And here's a maid within. Chorus

We have a flower in our garden, We call it Marigold: And if you will not when you may, You shall not when you wolde. Chorus

Measure 29 - High Germany

O Polly dear, O Polly dear, The rout has now begun And we must march away At the beating of the drum: Go dress yourself all in your best And come along with me, I'll take you to the cruel wars In High Germany. O Harry, dear Harry, You mind what I do say, My feet they are so tender I cannot march away, And besides, my dearest Harry, Although I'm in love with thee. I am not fit for cruel wars In High Germany. I'll buy you a horse, my Love, And on it you shall ride, And all of my delight shall be Riding by your side; We'll call at ev'ry ale house, And drink when we are dry, So quickly on the road, my Love, We'll marry by and by. O cursed were the cruel wars That ever they should rise And out of merry England Press many a lad likewise! They press'd young Harry from me, Likewise my brothers three, And sent them to the cruel wars In High Germany.

Measure 71 - The Tree So High

The trees they grow high, the leaves they do grow green Many is the time my true love I've seen Many an hour I have watched him all alone He's young, but he's daily growing. Father, dear father, you've done me great wrong You have married me to a boy who is too young I'm twice twelve and he is but fourteen He's young, but he's daily growing. Daughter, dear daughter, I've done you no wrong I have married you to a great lord's son He'll be a man for you when I am dead and gone He's young, but he's daily growing. Father, dear father, if you see fit We'll send him to college for another year yet I'll tie blue ribbons all around his head To let the maidens know that he's married. One day I was looking o'er my father's castle wall I spied all the boys a-playing at the ball My own true love was the flower of them all He's young, but he's daily growing. And so early in the morning at the dawning of the day They went out into the hayfield to have some sport and play; And what they did there, she never would declare But she never more complained of his growing. At the age of fourteen, he was a married man At the age of fifteen, the father of a son At the age of sixteen, his grave it was green Have gone, to be wasted in battle. And death had put an end to his growing. I'll buy my love some flannel and I will make a shroud With every stitch I put in it, the tears they will pour down With every stitch I put in it, how the tears will flow Cruel fate has put an end to his growing.

Measure 89 - John Barleycorn

There was three men came out of the west, Their fortunes for to try, And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn should die. They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, Throwed clods upon his head, And these three man made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead. Then they let him lie for a very long time Till the rain from heaven did fall, Then little Sir John sprung up his head, And soon amazed them all. They let him stand till midsummer Till he looked both pale and wan, And little Sir John he growed a long beard And so became a man. They hired men with the scythes so sharp To cut him off at the knee, They rolled him and tied him by the waist, And served him most barbarously. They hired men with the sharp pitchforks Who pricked him to the heart, And the loader he served him worse than that, For he bound him to the cart. They wheeled him round and round the field Till they came unto a barn, And there they made a solemn mow of poor John Barleycorn. They hired men with the crab-tree sticks To cut him skin from bone, And the miller he served him worse than that, For he ground him between two stones. Here's little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl, And brandy in a glass; And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl Proved the stronger man at last. And the huntsman he can't hunt the fox, Nor so loudly blow his horn, And the tinker he can't mend kettles or pots Without a little of Barleycorn.

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