Always did what he could to help ordinary people make and enjoy music

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Ralph Vaughan Williams


For Military Band (1923)


English Folk Song Suite

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Study Guide

By Chris Landi

I. About the Composer

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Ralph (pronounced “Rayf”) Vaughan Williams was born on October 12, 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire into the privileged intellectual upper middle class, but never took it for granted and worked tirelessly all his life for democracy.

As a child he studied piano, violin, organ, and viola.

Studied at Cambridge University, the Royal College of Music, as well as studied under Maurice Ravel…was influenced by the music of J.S. Bach, handel, and Debussy; was also close friends with Gustav Holst.

folk tunes – In 1904 discovered English Folk Songs, which were fast becoming extinct owing to the increase of literacy and printed music in rural areas. He travelled the countryside and transcribed, preserved, collected, and published over 800 folk songs/native English tunes and used these melodies in many of his compositions for both vocal and instrumental ensembles.

*studied Early English composers of the 16th century (esp. in the tudor period)…ex. Thomas tallis, henry Purcell, etc. (music of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods). Evidence of this includes his inclusion of modal harmonies and hymnody in his compositions. In fact, he also edited the english hymnal.

*Throughout his life participated in many festivals and music societies while maintaining a busy schedule as a composer, lecturer, teacher, and conductor.

*Competition festival movement

*Folk Dance movement

*committee member, vice-president, and president of the Folk-Song Society

*Wrote both art music/practical (“Utilitarian”) music

~conducted local amateur singers…always did what he could to help ordinary people make and enjoy music. He believed that music was for all people.

II. About the style/period

-Twentieth Century (1900s):

More than any other period in the history of humans, the twentieth century is a time of rapid change. A person born around 1900 who lived to be at least 80 years old would have witnessed the post-industrial revolution, nuclear fission, space exploration, and the widespread application of technology Significant discoveries in scientific and technical fields such as medicine, physics, biology, aerospace, astronomy, and electronics have radically changed the way we live and think.

Important social, political, and historical events of the twentieth century include two world wars, the struggle of capitalism over communism, the establishment of compulsory education, a world-wide population explosion, and the emergence of Third World countries (Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East).

Twentieth century art music encompasses a diversity of styles and trends- Impressionism, Expressionism, Neoclassicism, Atonalism, Serialism, Aleatoric (chance) music, Electronic Music, Minimalism, and so on. Early twentieth century composers experimented with new approaches to music composition, strongly rejecting the subjective elements of romantic music. While some composers looked to the distant past for fresh material and ideas (folk songs- Ralph Vaughan Williams), others looked to the future searching for new ways to express their creative ideas. Today, composers are still exploring new horizons, and there are many currents and cross currents in art music. This may partially explain why audiences have been slow in appreciating contemporary music. The average “classical” music lover still prefers to listen to eighteenth and nineteenth century orchestral music.

The wind band continues to evolve throughout the twentieth century—the collegiate marching band begins early in the century; the “school band movement” is established in the 1920s and 30s; and Frederick Fennell establishes the “artistic wind band” with the founding of the Eastman Wind Ensemble in the early 1950s. From mid-century on, world-class composers increasingly write art music for the flexible wind band.

*nationalism- in music flourished during the years between the two world wars (1914-1945). “Musical nationalism was driven by a desire to return to cultural roots through a musical idiom connected to the people…musical nationalism took on new importance in the 20th century with the growing political and cultural aspirations of ethnic groups throughout Europe and the Americas…

Major twentieth century composers include Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel (French Impressionists), Arnold Schoenberg (creator of the twelve-tone system of music composition); Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Paul Hindemith (three foreign-born composers who lived and worked in the United States); Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the Australian-born Percy Grainger (known for their excellent band and orchestra music based on Enlish folk Songs); and Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, William Schuman, and Vincent Persichetti (a few of America’s many respected composers who wrote music for band and orchestra.

**Folk music’, the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp declared, ‘is the ungarbled and ingenuous expression of the human mind, and on that account it must reflect the essential and basic qualities of the human mind.’

III. About “English Folk Song Suite”/Background

-The title of this composition includes a few of the most important facts one should know—it is written by an English composer, consists Entirely of English Folk songs, and has multiple movements (3 to be exact). The term “suite” implies the use of multiple contrasting movements in an instrumental work.

Movement I –March- “Seventeen Come Sunday”

Movement II –Intermezzo- “My Bonny boy”

Movement III –March- “folk songs from Somerset”

*Composed for military band in 1923 for they Royal Military school of music at kneller hall. (Vaughan Williams’s first composition for wind band).

~Also arranged for full orchestra/brass band

By Gordon Jacob, a student of vaughan Williams

~Copyright 1924 by Boosey & Co., London

~In England, the term “military band” signifies the mixed woodwind, brass, percussion band as opposed to the brass band.

*Received its premier performance on july 4, 1923.

*Folk Songs incorporated in this piece are from Norfolk and somerset counties:

-Seventeen come Sunday

Pretty caroline

-Dives and Lazarus

-My bonny Boy

-Green Bushes

-Blow away the morning dew

-High Germany

-The Tree So High

-John Barleycorn

*The original English Folk Song Suite had 4 movements:

I. Seventeen Come Sunday,

II. Sea Songs,

III. My Bonnie boy,

IV. Folk Songs from Somerset.

“Sea songs” was later removed (probably by Boosey and Hawkes) because supposedly the publisher felt that the four movement work was too long, wouldn’t fit “neatly on the allotted pages” and welcomed the opportunity to extract the march for separate publication.


THE TUNE My Bonny Boy” is taken from ENGLISH County Songs by kind permission of Miss L.E. Broadwood, J.A. Fuller-maitland, Esq., and the Leadenhall PRESS. The tunes of Folk Songs from somerset are introduced by kind permission of cecil sharp, etc

*****A composer will often include notes in the full score and/or individual parts regarding performance issues, sources of borrowed material, etc.(like what Vaughan Williams did) and so on. Vaughan Williams cites:

Miss L.E. Broadwood

J.A. Fuller-Maitland, Esq.

Leadenhall Press

Cecil Sharp.

English Folk Song suite, along with other works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, is part of a collection of works by these two composers that is considered to be a great classic of British military band music. Both Holst and Vaughan Williams stand together in the history of British music representing England’s best compositional talent during the first half of the twentieth century.

“These variants are not exact replicas of traditional tunes, but rather reminiscences of various versions in my own collection and those of others.” –Ralph Vaughan Williams

IV. English folk Song suite Listening Activities

Questions to Consider: (use recording provided by Mr. Landi)

1. How many different folk tunes are in each movement and what are their names?

-March “Seventeen come Sunday” ___________





-Intermezzo “My Bonny Boy” _____________





-March “Folk Songs From Somerset” __________





2. Describe the various mood contrasts within each movement. Include Measure numbers and use 2 or 3 adjectives to describe each mood. How does your individual part contribute to each of these moods?

3. How does Vaughan Williams musically unite each movement into a suite? In other words, what musical elements are similar in all 3 movements?

4. Describe why the composer chose to use certain instruments (or their timbres) to play particular solos. (No “Right or Wrong answer”) ex. Why a cornet solo and not a tuba solo in the beginning of the third movement? What is the role of the percussion? Etc.

5. Do you play the melody, countermelodies, accompaniment, the driving pulse, accenting material, etc.?

(see “Instrument scoring guide worksheets”)

Rehearsal Assignment: Fill out the instrument scoring study guide worksheet for each movement. Mark your answers from this worksheet also in your individual parts.

6. Listen to the full orchestra arrangement and/or brass band arrangement of English Folk Song suite. Compare and Contrast.

7. Describe the style of this work. What musical concepts contribute to this distinctive style? Cite examples from your part as well as the recording. Include measure numbers and movement numbers. Also, describe how these musical concepts contribute to style.

V. Other Major Works by Vaughan Williams

-9 symphonies for orchestra

-Fantasia on a theme by Thomas tallis

-Mass in G minor

-Fantasia on Greensleeves

-5 variants of dives and lazarus for string orch/harp

-norfolk rhapsodies 1 and 2

-Sea songs

-toccata marziale

-flourish for wind band

-Dona Nobis Pacem

-Songs of travel

-The Lark Ascending

-Five mystical songs

-English Hymnal

VI. Related Listenings

1. folk songs (Alan Lomax, etc.)

2. Gustav holst (1874-1934)

-The Planets

-A Somerset Rhapsody

-First suite in Eb

-Second Suite in F

-Scherzo for Orchestra

-St. Paul’s Suite

3. Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

-Pomp and Circumstance

-Imperial March

4. William Walton (1902-1983)

-Orb and sceptre

-Crown Imperial

-Partita for Orchestra

5. Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

-Coronation March 1953

-Oliver Twist

-Symphony No. 7

6. Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)

-Welcome the Queen

-Seven Waves Away

-A Colour symphony

7. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

-A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

-War Requiem

8. Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)

-William Byrd Suite

-An Original Suite

9. Percy Grainger (1882-1961)

- Children's March: "Over the Hills and Far Away"

-Shepherd's Hey

-Irish Tune from County Derry

-Lincolnshire Posy

-Colonial Song

-Country Gardens


  1. Listen to at least 4 other works by Vaughan Williams listed in section 4 (“Other major works…”). Compare and contrast with English Folk Song suite in terms of style, articulation, melody, harmony, form, mood, etc.

  1. Listen to at least 1 piece by each of the composers mentioned in section VI (“Related Listenings”). What musical characteristics do these pieces share with English folk song suite?

Piece Composer Musical similarities

  1. Take one of the listed composers and discover more of their compositions. List at least 5 other works (including a minimum of two different ensemble settings- orchestral, choral, wind band, etc.) and write 2-3 comments about each work.


VIII. Melodic concepts

~ideas and terms that describe and label how composers combine tones horizontally to create meaningful patterns of pitches as a component of music with expressive potential.

Melody- arranging pitches in a horizontal order to create a musical idea

Countermelody- a melodic line which is subordinate to as well as combines with the melody to create a contrapuntal texture

Examples- “Dives and Lazarus” movement I

“The Trees So High” movement III

Phrase- a natural division of the melodic line (like a phrase or sentence of speech)

Repetition – ex. Seventeen come Sunday.

Phrase lengths – Balanced/unequal – ex. My bonny Boy

Elision/overlap – ex Green Bushes

Rehearsal Activity: Play through an example of each of the abovementioned phrase concepts.

Mode- broadly defined as a series of pitches arranged in a scale. (the basic tonal material used in constructing melodies)

For example, if you are playing a warm-up exercise (on a piano for example) with no flats or sharps centered around “C”, you are playing in the mode of C Major.

Dorian mode- a scale that is similar to the natural minor scale except that it has a raised sixth scale degree. For example on the piano the keys F, G, A flat, B flat, C, D flat, E flat, F would spell the F natural minor scale. The keys F, G, A flat, B flat, C, D, E flat, F would spell the F dorian scale.

Aeolian mode- a scale that is similar to the natural minor scale (centered around the sixth pitch of the relative Major scale.)

A Relative scale refers to the scale in the opposite mode and that has the same key signiature.

If you are playing a concert c major scale and want to play the relative minor, you play the minor scale with no flats or sharps (a minor).

A Parallel scale refers to the scale in the opposite mode and that has the same note name.

If you are playing a concert C Major scale and want to play the parallel minor, you play the C Minor scale.


*Play through the concert F dorian scale

*Play through the concert F minor scale

Question: What’s the difference? _________________________________________

IX. Harmonic Concepts

~ideas and terms that describe and label how composers combine sounds vertically to create meaningful combinations that contribute to expressiveness.

Tonality: music based on scale-degree function/relationship to one another (leading to a tonic harmony, identifiable embellishing tones, etc.) This work is tonal, as opposed to atonal (nontonal), which implies a fee use of all twelve pitch classes, making a true “tonic” impossible to discern.

*See “modes” in MELODIC CONCEPTS; applies here as well

*Movements I and II and with the same type of chord called a Picardy 3rd- a raised THIRD SCALE DEGREE in a minor key that creates a new major chord.

Cadence: refers to a stopping or pausing in the flow of music; the goal of a musical phrase. The various types of cadences can be compared to punctuation in writing or speech.

Half Cadence (incomplete- ending on the dominant chord V or V7)

~like a comma

Authentic Cadence (complete/conclusive-resolution- dominant to tonic motion.

~Like a period

Plagal Cadence (complete- subdominant to tonic motion- IV to I…also known as “Amen Cadence”)

Deceptive or evaded cadence (Dominant to usually submediant (vi)…surprises the listener)

~Like a question mark

Rehearsal Activity: Play through various phrase with each of these cadences to hear what they sound like.

X. Rhythmic Concepts

~ideas and terms that describe and label how composers organize varying durations of sound and silence to create vitality as a component of music contributing to expressiveness.

  1. Polymeter- two different meters played y or more different parts simultaneously

-seen in Movement I: March- “Seventeen come Sunday” in “dives and Lazarus” mm. 64-97.

Question- How do the 2 different meters reflect what is happening in the music?

Activity: Write out your part in the other meter and play. Now play your part as it is originally written. Which version is more idiomatic or convenient?

Activity: Clap the eighth notes in whatever meter you have- either 6/8 or 2/4.

B. Dotted Rhythmscontribute to style

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