English Folk Song Suite

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Written in 1923, English Folk Song Suite is one of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams' most famous works. It was first published for military band as Folk Song Suite and its premiere was given at Kneller Hall on 4 July 1923, conducted by Lt Hector Adkins.[1] The piece was then arranged for full orchestra in 1924 by Vaughan Williams' student Gordon Jacob and published as English Folk Song Suite. The piece was later arranged for British-style brass band in 1956 by Frank Wright and published as English Folk Songs Suite.[2] All three versions were published by Boosey & Hawkes; note the use of three different titles for the three different versions.


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[edit]

Seventeen Come Sunday opens after a four-bar introduction with the principal melody – the folk song Seventeen Come Sunday[3] – 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"[3] as a quiet melody for solo clarinet or solo cornet (clarinet only in orchestrated version), which is also repeated. A third tune, Dives and Lazarus[3] 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 Coda. The form of this movement can be represented by A-B-C-B-A (Arch form).

   title = "Seventeen Come Sunday"
\relative c'''
  \key f \minor
    \time 2/4 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo "Allegro" 4 = 120
       r4 r8 c16\pp (bes16-.  aes8) f8-. g8-. es8-. f8-. f16-. f16-. f8-.
      g16-. aes16-.  bes8-. g8-. es8-. g8-.  bes8-. c8-. c8. (d16-.) es8-. c8-. es4--
      f4-- es8 (c16 d16)

      es4-- d8. (es16--) c8-. bes8-. g8-. f8-. c'8-. d8-.          es8-. r16 g,16-. (aes8-.) f8-. f8-. r8\mf g16 (aes16 bes16 g16 es8-.) r8 f8-.\p c'8-. c16-. (bes16 aes16 bes16) g4 (f8-.)


Seventeen Come Sunday

   title = "Seventeen Come Sunday"
\relative c''
  \key g \minor
    \time 2/4 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo  4 = 120
      r4 bes8 (d8 f4--_\markup{\italic "cantabile"}) f4 (d4 f4) g8 (f8 g4 g,4) bes8 (c8 d4 g8 f8 d8 c8 bes8. a16) bes4

Pretty Caroline

Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy[edit]

My Bonny Boy opens with a solo in F dorian for the oboe (sometimes doubled or played by solo cornet) on the tune of the folk song of the same name,[3] which is repeated by the low-register instruments. Midway through the movement, a Poco Allegro begins on Green Bushes,[3] a typically English waltz, first sounded by a piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and oboe 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.

\relative c'{ \time 3/4 \key f\minor \set Score.tempoHideNote=##t \tempo 4=86 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"oboe" \partial 4 f8\p (g8 aes4 g4 f4 f'4 es4 f4 c4. d8 es8 c8 aes4 g4) f8 (g8 aes4-- aes4-- aes8 c8 bes8 aes8 g8 aes8 bes4 c2)}

March: Folk Songs from Somerset[edit]

Folk Songs from Somerset opens with a light introduction of four measures before the first melody, the folk song Blow Away the Morning Dew,[3] 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)[3] 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,[3] 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)[3] 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)

\relative c''{ \time 2/4  \set Score.tempoHideNote=##t \tempo 4=126 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"trumpet" r4 r8 g8\p g8 (c8) c8-. c8-. c4. c8 d8 (e8) f8 d8 e4. c8-. e8-.  <<{r16 g16 g8}\\{r8 r8 c,8-.}>> d8-. <<{r16 f16 f8}\\{ r8 r8 b,8}>> c8-. b8-. a8-. g8-. f'4 (e8 d8) c8.\pp^"tutti" (d16) c8-. <c a>8-. <c a>8-. <b g>8-. <b g>8-. r8 g'4-- e8-. g8-. a4.^"solo" a8 g8. (e16) c8-. d8-. e8 (c8-.) a8-. f'8-. e8-. c8-. d8-. b8-. c8-.\ff  }

Blow Away Morning Dew

\relative c'{ \clef bass \time 2/4  \set Score.tempoHideNote=##t \tempo 4=126 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"trombone" \key g\minor \partial 8 d8\ff d8._\markup{\italic "marc"} g,16 g8 f8 bes8. c16 d8 d8 c8 c8 g8 g8 g4. f8 bes8 bes8 bes16 c16 d16 es16 f4 g8 g8 f8 d8 c16 d16 es8 d4. d16 c16 bes8 bes8 bes16 c16 d16 es16 f4 g8 g8 f8 d8 d16 c16 bes8 c4. \< \!g'8\f f8. g,16 g8 f8 bes8. c16 d8 d8 c8. bes16 g8 g8 g4. }

High Germany


Original 1923 Concert Band Version[edit]

  • 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 Cornets, B-flat Trumpets, 1st and 2nd Horns in F (E-flat in the score), 3rd and 4th Horns in F (E-flat in the score), 1st Trombone, 2nd Trombone, Bass Trombone, B-flat Baritone, Euphonium, Basses, Timpani, Drums (cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, triangle).

The suite was published in 1923 by Boosey & Hawkes as Folk Song Suite.

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 Concert Band Version[edit]

  • Concert Flute and Piccolo, Oboe, E-flat Clarinet, Solo B-flat Clarinet, 1st B-flat Clarinet, 2nd B-flat Clarinet, 3rd B-flat Clarinet, E-flat Alto Clarinet, B-flat Bass Clarinet, 1st Bassoon, 2nd Bassoon, E-flat Alto Saxophone, B-flat Tenor Saxophone, E-flat Baritone Saxophone, B-flat Bass Saxophone and Contrabass Clarinet, Solo and 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, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, String Bass, 1st and 2nd Percussion (timpani, cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, triangle).

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.

1924 Orchestra Version[edit]

  • 2 Flutes (2nd doubling Piccolo), Oboe, 2 B-flat Clarinets, Bassoon, 2 Horns in F, 2 B-flat Trumpets, 2 Trombones, Timpani, Percussion (cymbals, bass drum, side drum, triangle), Strings (violins, violas, cellos, and double basses).

The suite was arranged for full orchestra by Gordon Jacob, one of Vaughan Williams' pupils, and published in 1924 by Boosey & Hawkes as English Folk Song Suite.

1956 Brass Band Version[edit]

  • E-flat Soprano Cornet, Solo B-flat Cornet, Repiano B-flat Cornet and Flugal (one part, two players), 2nd B-flat Cornet, 3rd B-flat Cornet, Solo E-flat Horn, 1st E-flat Horn, 2nd E-flat Horn, 1st B-flat Baritone, 2nd B-flat Baritone, 1st B-flat Trombone, 2nd B-flat Trombone, Bass Trombone, B-flat Euphonium, E-flat Bass, B-flat Bass, Drums (side drum, bass drum, cymbals and triangle), Timpani.[2]

The suite was arranged for Brass Band by Frank Wright and published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1956 as English Folk Songs Suite (this follows the orchestral version in adding 'English' to the title but it also pluralises 'Songs'). The arrangement uses the standard British brass band scoring for 25 brass players and 2/3 percussionists (see British brass band for details of transpositions and numbers of players per part). Rehearsal numbers were added to the score and parts but the individual folk tunes remain unnamed.[2] This edition remains a staple of the Brass Band repertoire.


  1. ^ Timothy Reynish, notes for British Wind Band Classics, Chandos Records 9697, 1999 – PDF Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Published score by Boosey & Hawkes, 1956, ref. B&H 18233
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kennedy, Michael: A Catalogue of the Works of Vaughan Williams, OUP, 1964, p.103