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Exploring the often surprising links between concepts, themes and people in classical music, from medieval to modern


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Saturday, February 3, 2018 Permalink

The Folksong Connection

Ralph Vaughan Williams & the Lake Country


"Do you realize," a friend told composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, "that none of your best-sellers are your own?"

He was referring to the Fantasia on Greensleeves, the English Folk Songs Suite, and the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. And while it's a clever remark that the composer found very funny, the truth is, all three works are very much his own.

In fact, I would argue that Vaughan Williams' particular form of greatness is not in saying things that have never been said before--but in presenting familiar or forgotten things in a way that makes them seem fresh and relevant.

In this hour, an exploration of two of Vaughan Williams' best-loved works, and the folk songs that inspired them.

Featured Recordings

Title Label & No. UPC
Ralph Vaughan Williams [for the Fantasia on Greensleeves] EMI Eminence CD-EMX 2179 0077776411422
Under the Greenwood Tree [for vocal of "Greensleeves"] Naxos 8.553442 0730099444224
Vaughan Williams: The Collector's Edition, disc 10 [for the English Folk Songs Suite] EMI 2066362 5099920663629 
Heather Wood: Fast Folk (Vol. 3, No. 9), Songs of Tradition [for "Lovely Joan," whose tune is used as a secondary theme in the Fantasia on Greensleeves] iTunes download]  
US Navy Sea Chanters: Homeward Bound [for "Seventeen Come Sunday"]  Coker & McCree (iTunes download)  
Anne Briggs: A Collection [for "My Bonny Boy"] Topic Records TSCD504 714822050425
Alan Lomax: Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland, Vol. 2 [for "Blow Away the Morning Dew," sung by Emily Bishop] Rounder Records 1776 011661177628
The Gordons: Time Will Tell Our Story [for "John Barleycorn"] Blueberry Hill BBH 122 683884021226
Luke Kelly: Working Class Hero [for "High Germany"] Celtic Airs Records CACD0203 5391513560354
HeartSounds: Behind the Green Bushes [for "Green Bushes"] HeartSounds 610 388 7523 0634479013638
Martin Simpson: The Bramble Briar [for song, "Dives and Lazarus"] Topic Records TSCD513 714822051323
Bournemouth Symphony: English String Music [for Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus] Naxos 8.550823 0730099582322

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