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English Folk Song Suite

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Title: English Folk Song Suite  
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Subject: Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, Seventeen Come Sunday, My Bonny Boy, Compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Concert band pieces
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

English Folk Song Suite

Written in 1923, the English Folk Song Suite is one of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams's most famous works for military band. It was actually published originally as "Folk Song Suite". In 1924, the piece was arranged for full orchestra by Vaughan Williams' student Gordon Jacob, with the word "English" at the beginning of the title. Frank Wright produced a version for an English-style brass band; it was copyrighted in 1956.

Its premiere was given at Kneller Hall on 4 July 1923, conducted by Lt Hector Adkins.[1]


  • Structure 1
    • March: Seventeen Come Sunday 1.1
    • Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy 1.2
    • March: Folk Songs from Somerset 1.3
  • Instrumentation 2
  • 2008 revised edition 3
  • References 4


The suite consists of three movements: March, Intermezzo and another March. The first march is called Seventeen Come Sunday, the Intermezzo is subtitled My Bonny Boy and the final movement is based on four Folk Songs from Somerset.

It originally had a fourth movement, Sea Songs, which was played second, but the composer removed it after the first performance and published it separately, with his own orchestration.

March: Seventeen Come Sunday

Seventeen Come Sunday opens after a four-bar introduction with the principal melody – the folk song Seventeen Come Sunday[2] – played by the woodwind section (flutes in orchestrated version). This melody is repeated, and the woodwind is joined by the brass (violins in orchestrated version). The phrasing is irregular – the melody lasts for thirteen bars. This melody is followed by "Pretty Caroline"[2] as a quiet melody for solo clarinet and solo cornet (clarinet only in orchestrated version), which is also repeated. A third tune, Dives and Lazarus[2] then enters in the lower instruments. This third tune is particularly interesting for having a 6/8 rhythm played as a counterpoint by the upper woodwinds, against the straight 2/4 rhythm of the saxophones and brasses. This third theme is repeated, then leads straight back to the second theme. Finally, the first theme is repeated in a Da capo al Fine. The form of this movement can be represented by A-B-C-B-A (Arch form).

Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy

My Bonny Boy opens with a solo for the oboe (sometimes doubled or played by solo cornet) on the tune of the folk song of the same name,[2] which is repeated by the low-register instruments. Halfway through the movement, a Poco Allegro begins on Green Bushes,[2] a typically English waltz, first sounded by a piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and oboe first in the minor context, then repeated in the major with the lower-brass. The first melody is played again in fragmented form before the close of the movement.

March: Folk Songs from Somerset

Folk Songs from Somerset opens with a light introduction of four measures before the first melody, the folk song Blow Away the Morning Dew,[2] played by the solo cornet (clarinet in orchestration). This melody is then dovetailed around the band/orchestra before finishing with a fortissimo reprise. A second melody (High Germany)[2] then takes over, being played by the tenor and lower register instruments, while the remainder takes over the on beat chordal structure.

As this second melody dies away,the original melody is heard once again with the tutti reprise. This then leads into the key change, time change (6/8) and the trio. The trio introduces a more delicate melody, Whistle, Daughter, Whistle,[2] played by the woodwind with a light accompaniment. This continues until the time signature changes again, back to the original 2/4. Along with this time change a final heavy melody (John Barleycorn)[2] enters in the lower instruments (trombones and double basses in orchestrated version) while the cornets play decorative features above. This trio is then repeated in full before a D.C. is reached. The form of this movement can be represented by A-B-A. (ternary form)


E-flat flute and piccolo, Concert flute and piccolo, E-flat clarinet, solo B-flat clarinet, ripieno 1st B-flat clarinet, 2nd B-flat clarinet, 3rd B-flat clarinet, E-flat alto clarinet, B-flat bass clarinet, oboes and c clarinets, 1st bassoon, 2nd bassoon, E-flat alto saxophone, B-flat tenor saxophone, E-flat baritone saxophone, B-flat bass saxophone and contrabass clarinet, 1st B-flat cornets, 2nd B-flat cornet, B-flat trumpets, 1st and 2nd horns in F, 3rd and 4th horns in F, 1st trombone, 2nd trombone, 3rd trombone, B-flat baritone, euphonium, basses, timpani, drums (cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, triangle).

The part titled "concert flute and piccolo", although singular, requires at least two players since the flute and piccolo parts are simultaneous for much of the suite, and the final movement includes split parts. Other parts that require two players are the oboes and B-flat trumpets. The E-flat clarinet part has divisis in the final movement only, most of which is already doubled in the solo/first B-flat clarinet voice, making the second E-flat clarinet not entirely necessary. Solo and 1st B-flat cornets are printed on one part (originally titled "1st cornet"), but one player is required for solo and one for 1st. The part for B-flat baritone is actually for a baritone saxhorn, no longer present in the military band (not the euphonium) and this part disappears from later editions of the set, with the only evidence being cued notes on the euphonium part.

2008 revised edition

Boosey & Hawkes published a revised edition of the piece in 2008. This edition features a computer-engraved full score and parts, incorporating corrections to engraving errors evident in the original edition. Other changes include the addition of rehearsal numbers to the score and parts, the titles of the folk songs added where they occur in the music, the horns notated in F in the score instead of in E-flat, the separation of the string bass from the tuba into its own part, and the percussion split into two parts.


  1. ^ Timothy Reynish, notes for British Wind Band Classics, Chandos Records 9697, 1999 – PDF
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kennedy, Michael: A Catalogue of the Works of Vaughan Williams, OUP, 1964, p.103
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