Six Studies in English Folk-Song by Ralph Vaughan Williams
I Adagio, "Lovely on the Water"
II Andante sostenuto, "Spurn Point"
III Larghetto, "Van Diemen's Land"
IV Lento, "She Borrowed Some of her Mother's Gold"
V Andante tranquillo, "The Lady and the Dragoon"
VI Allegro vivace, "As I walked over London Bridge"
When Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was a music student in London he became fascinated with rural English traditional songs, which then existed only in oral tradition and were gradually being forgotten. He visited rural churches and musicians, learned their songs by ear, wrote them out in music notation, and enlisted other musicians to help him save the music from extinction. He wrote this piece in 1926 for cello and piano, and later transcribed it for many other solo instruments, noting that his aim was that the songs be “treated with love.”
"Lovely on the Water" is a dialogue of a sailor with his love, before he is sent off to war.
"Spurn Point" is a dangerous spit at the entrance to the Humber estuary from the North Sea, where a vessel stranded and its captain refused help from the life station there, sinking on the next tide and losing all aboard.
"Van Diemen's Land" is a cautionary lament of poachers who have been transported to a penal colony on Tasmania.
The complete words for "She Borrowed Some of her Mother's Gold" have not been recovered, but the story does seem to have ended badly for her.
"The Lady and the Dragoon" tells of a poor but valiant soldier who marries above his station yet earns his honor by rescuing his new father-in-law from the king's soldiers.
"As I walked over London Bridge" is the overheard tale of a pretty maid whose lover, though of royal blood, is to be hanged with a golden chain for having stolen and sold sixteen of the King's deer.