English folksong was crucial in the development of Vaughan Williams’s personal voice, and he incorporated folksongs into a number of works including the operas Hugh the Drover
(1912–14) and Sir John in Love
(1924–28), as well as the Fantasia on Christmas Carols
(1912). He used them extensively too in the hymn collections that he helped edit, The English Hymnal
(1906), and Songs of Praise
(1925). Another work where folksong provides the basis of the musical material is the Six Studies in English Folksong
for cello and piano. They were written for and dedicated to the cellist May Mukle, who gave the premiere with her sister Anne, on 4 June 1926 at the Scala Theatre, London, as part of the English Folk Dance Society Festival.
The studies are all brief and are not simply transcriptions of the folksongs used, but elaborations on them. All but the final study are in slow tempos and the songs they are based on are respectively: ‘Lovely on the Water’ (which is the same melody Vaughan Williams used in the second of his Five English Folksongs under the title ‘The Springtime of the Year’), ‘Spurn Point’, ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, ‘She borrowed some of her mother’s gold’, ‘The Lady and the Dragon’ and ‘As I walked over London Bridge’.
from notes by Andrew Burn © 2002