A Little English Suite - for instrumental ensemble
A suite of English folksong arrangements
This set of five folksongs are my most recent settings - and I have made numerous settings of folksongs not just of England, but Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Eastern Europe & South America. This is the programme note for the first performance of this suite, as part of the "durnoVibe" music festival on Sunday October 18th, 2009, in Dorchester [this 'performance', therefore, is entirely virtual - the notes are from Sibelius and the sounds are drawn from the EastWest library]:
[the picture is an oil pastel drawing made in 2007 of the magnificent bridge by White Mill]
Proramme notes for A Little English Folksong Suite:
This is a group of English folk songs put together as a suite, the sources being by and large from the Dorset Book of Folk Songs, edited by Joan Brocklebank and Biddie Kindersley in 1948. The first movement however, “I'm Seventeen Come Sunday”, was drawn from the collection made by Cecil Sharp. It is instantly recognisable and is English in its character to the core. It has been set by many composers and I did not want to be left out.... Just as Grainger made numerous versions of his arrangements for any number of instruments, so I have set this and many other English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish folksongs in a variety of instrumentations -- piano solo, duet, two pianos, voices, guitar duo, orchestral. The opportunity afforded by the formation of the Great Western Ensemble today was too good to miss, so these are yet more first performances in this form.
The slow second movement “I will Give my Love an Apple” is a beautiful plaintive lovesong with a characterful rising motif (a minor 7th) at the end of each phrase.
In the third movement, the Ploughboy, I incorporated all three songs to do with ploughing from the Dorset Book of Folk Songs: The Ploughboy, The Bonny Labouring Boy, & Cupid the Ploughboy. This composition began as a doodle in an idle moment but quickly became quite a substantial piece as the possibilities of juxtaposing these three wonderful melodies became apparent. It is a very vivacious movement, representing the physical nature of the hard work involved in turning the soil, and at the end a breathlessly fast coda as a labourer heads for home and family, followed by a night out with his friends.
The fourth song, “Dance to your Daddy” is usually associated with the north-east, and the fishing industry. Rather mischievously, there being no written sources in the oral tradition of folk song, I argue equally persuasively that this tune might have been sung at Lyme Regis by returning fishermen to their little children! English folk songs only tend to be placed definitively where they happen to have been discovered first. There is no way of knowing from where many of them originated. So, our ploughboy, having touched base briefly to see his family, heads for the local hostelry, to partake of the “Barley Mow” (the fifth movement). This is a drinking song: “here’s a good health to the Barley Mow….” with a repeated cumulative refrain asking how big a receptacle you can drink from. What starts as a quarter pint grows to a half pint, a pint, a quart, a gallon, a flagon, a firkin, a barrel, a hogshead, a butt and finally a tun…. and presumably the assembled company become steadily more inebriated. At this point I have included a magnificent love song “My Rose in June”, as our now nearly legless ploughboy has shed his inhibitions and imbibed enough dutch courage to declare his love for one of the lasses.
If there was a sixth folksong it would have to express his morning-after hangover!....
I put three of the folksongs ["The Ploughboy", "I'm Seventeen Come Sunday" and "Barley Mow"] together to make a smaller Suite, called The Ploughboy: