I am delighted to have been asked to guest conduct the Kasetsart University Winds Symphonic and Nond-See Orchestra Winds during their Gala Concert in the Singapore International Band Festival (SIBF) on 30th July at 7:30 pm in Esplanade.

Vaughan Williams in the early 1920s

Vaughan Williams in the early 1920s.

The piece we have chosen is the well-known “English Folk Song Suite” by the English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Incidentally, contrary to the common misconception, his given name is Ralph, and the family name is Vaughan Williams (without a hyphen).

Inspired by the two Suites (No. 1 in E-flat, 1909, and No. 2 in F, 1911), which his friend, Gustav Holst, had written for the band of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, Vaughan Williams undertook to write his first composition for band several years later. Both Holst and Vaughan Williams, alongside Percy Grainger and others, were active members of the folk song movement in Great Britain during the first part of the 20th Century. Vaughan Williams himself collected, noted down and arranged some 800 of them. It was therefore natural for him to employ such material in his Suite for Kneller Hall. Vaughan Williams’ wife, Ursula, reported that her husband enjoyed enormously the challenge of writing for band. The composer himself said he hoped that the opportunity to play real melodies would be a pleasant and efficacious experience for the military musicians.

Vaughan Williams composed his “Folk Song Suite” in 1923. It was Gordon Jacob who added the appendage “English” when he arranged it for symphony orchestra the following year. The Suite originally had four movements: the three we usually play nowadays (March – “Seventeen come Sunday, Intermezzo – “My bonny Boy” and March – “Folk Songs from Somerset”) and in addition “Sea Songs” in second position, and was first performed in this form. At the recommendation of the publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, the “Sea Songs” movement was dropped from the first published edition in 1924 and appeared as a separate composition the same year. Thus, two new compositions, as it seemed, were introduced to the market simultaneously.

Vaughan Williams conducting a military band

Vaughan Williams conducting a military band

We will perform the original four-movement version of the Suite in the SIBF Gala Concert, in what is likely to be a Singaporean premiere! The fresh breeze of the “Sea Songs” adds an additional colour and dimension to the traditional Suite, which most bands know and play. I have been convinced of the beauty of this return to Vaughan Williams’ original idea since I recorded the four-movement version with Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra in 2006. And, it is also in the repertoire of the Intercontinental Conducting Course in Singapore, 18th – 22nd July, organized jointly by WMC (World Music Contest), Netherlands, and WBAS (Wind Bands Association of Singapore).

A gem of British music and the wind orchestra’s repertoire in particular, waiting to be rediscovered!

TBP: Tickets to SIBF Gala Concert are available through SISTIC.


Editor’s note:

As it turns out the performance of Vaughan Williams’ “English Folk Song Suite” on Saturday, 30th July in Esplanade will not be the first of the 4-movement version in Singapore. It’s great news to hear it’s been done before. At the time of writing his article for this site (with its fascinating background history), that information was not available to Douglas Bostock. For that reason, he formulated the title as a question. Singapore is privileged to be able to hear Vaughan Williams’ original version again.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.