Talk by Ralph Vaughan Williams on folk song music for the BBC

Letter No.: 
[27 March 1940]

Talk on folk-song music for BBC
BBC Military Band
Programme: 27th March,
1940, 9.35 p.m.


Script by R. Vaughan Williams

Last time I had the pleasure of speaking to you we heard some splendid marching tunes, all of them good for singing – tunes which really belong to us because they have been sung for generations of our forefathers.  I promised you then that if I was allowed I could show you a lot more, and here they are – nothing precious about them – tunes with real blood in their veins and real muscles in their limbs.  I don’t believe that you could help stepping out to them even when you are tired after a long day’s march.
There is not only the quick step march to be thought of, but also the slow march and the double. The first piece to be played to you tonight, “The Running Set” is all at the double.  The “Running Set” is a dance with a series of traditional tunes to it, some of which are well known.  I remember in my Army days how we were sent for a route march a 7 o’clock every morning, except Sundays, and part of that route march was always at the double.  How we hated it!  And how we longed for a good tune to help us through the ordeal.
First, then, Major O’Donnell1 and his players will give you “The Running Set.”
Now we have what I have called a “Folk Dance Medley.”  It was originally arranged for a festival of the Folk Dance Society at the Albert Hall. You will see that the tunes often run into each other, so that the end of one tune is found to be the beginning of the next one.  The Albert Hall dancers, who of course knew the tunes very well, were therefore continually finding that they were off on one dance before they had finished the last.
I have introduced one tune which is not a dance at all, but a song “The Seeds of Love.”  I introduced this partly because I liked the tune, and partly for sentimental reasons.  This was the first tune which Cecil Sharp collected in Somerset.  Perhaps if he had not by accident heard this song being sung in the fields he would not have been led on to rescue from oblivion that wonderful collection of melodies which he has bequeathed to us.
We will finish up with three march tunes which I have put together into a little Suite.  The first tune is the “Blue-eyed Stranger”, a tune which the Morris men dance to  - I do not know what the words are, so I cannot tell you what the sex of the stranger was - but I like to think that she had flaxen hair as well as blue eyes.
Then comes a man-of-war song, “On board a ’98.”  This was sung to me in King’s Lynn by an old sailor.  I spent many happy mornings with him and his friends listening to their almost inexhaustible stock of splendid tunes.2

1. Bertram Walton O'Donnell, who had been conductor of the BBC's Military Band for some years.
2. Neither the 'Folk-dance medley' not the three march arrangements (VW does not give the name of the third tune) is listed in the Catalogue of Works and may now be lost. On The Running Set, see Catalogue of Works 1933/3.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 910, VW artist
General notes: 

VWL4019 and VWL4020 are concerned with the rights attached to this broadcast.

Cobbe 336
Original database number: