Click the links below to hear each movement.
This Suite has been arranged from Holst’s 6 Choral Folksongs, Op. 36. Holst never collected folksongs in the way that Cecil Sharp or William Gillies Whittaker did, but through his friendship with these collectors and other composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams he became aware of their work. Here, he sets six folksongs in his own inimitable style. ‘I Sowed the Seeds of Love’ is a fairly gentle introduction to this set, with first of all a unison tune and then a high trio of players. This expands through the next verse until all the players have joined into a triumphant acclamation, before fading away to a quiet ending. ‘There was a tree’ is scored extremely lightly, for just the four flute parts. Each voice takes the theme in turn, and then continues contrapuntally until all four voices are weaving round each other in the manner of a Renaissance motet. With minimal dynamics, this creates and almost scurrying effect. ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’ takes a simple, child’s bedtime prayer and turns it into a sinister march. The first verse is high instruments accompanied by a simple drone; in the second verse the low instruments take the tune under flowing lines above. A loud climax near the end breaks the mood, but not enough and the music sinks back away to nothing. ‘Song of the Blacksmith’ sets up a rhythmic, percussive ostinato through which a more sustained melodic line weaves. Each of the three verses increases in drive and dynamics until a very loud ending. ‘I love my love’ tells the story of a pair of lovers separated by the young man’s parents – he is sent away to sea and she is imprisoned in a madhouse. Finally hearing of her incarceration, the young man rushes back to claim his love and free her from imprisonment. They are married and live happily ever after. ‘Swansea Town’ is a rollicking sea shanty sung by a sailor to his love as the time has come for him to set sail again. Each verse is given a different treatment – in the middle of the setting we can hear a storm at sea with ominous swells in the bass line. This arrangement has been made with maximum flexibility in mind. The contr’alto and contrabass parts are generally optional, and the piccolo part avoids the extreme high register. The second movement has been set for flutes alone, so could be taken by a solo quartet of players. Each movement stands alone, so may be played as separate pieces, or put together in any combination as needed. The simple, generally strophic verse setting makes it relatively easy to put this piece together, leaving more time to work on expression through the tempi and the dynamics.