Work: Fantasia on Greensleeves
About This Work
In 1913 Vaughan Williams wrote an entr'acte as part of his incidental music for King Richard II using the popular traditional melody, Greensleeves. He drew on the theme again, more memorably, when he composed his opera Sir John in Love (1924 - 1928),
yet another work based on Shakespeare's Falstaff. It appears in the prelude to Act III and is followed by Mistress Ford's vocal account of the Greensleeves music, sung to lute accompaniment.
In 1934, under the direction of Vaughan Williams, Ralph Greaves adapted the instrumental version of this music to fashion the Fantasia on Greensleeves. Its scoring is for strings and harp (or piano), with optional parts for flutes. This has been one of Vaughan Williams' most widely performed and enduring compositions, far outpacing the popularity of the opera from which it was drawn. Other instrumental arrangements of the Greensleeves music followed, including ones for piano duet (1942) and for two pianos (1945), both by Hubert J. Foss, for violin and piano (1944) by Michael Mullinar, and for cello (or viola) and piano (1947) by Watson Forbes.
In addition, there were numerous arrangements of the Mistress Ford Greensleeves song from the opera. These include one for organ by Stanley Roper (1947) and uncredited or anonymous ones for voice and piano, for women voices and piano, and for male voices and tenor solo unaccompanied. There were also several choral arrangements.
But, of course, it is the Fantasia on Greensleeves that has garnered the most attention. The composer's use of the theme is simple and direct throughout, the strings warmly playing the melody, with harp chords accompanying. The brief middle section uses another folk melody, Lovely Joan. It is livelier and has a peasant heartiness about its joyous manner. In the alternate version, the flutes are given some prominence here when they take up this colorful theme after the lower strings introduce it. The melody returns to close out this five-minute piece. The other chamber adaptations of the Greensleeves music generally follow this same structure, keeping the melody and the other folk music simple. They are in fact considered arrangements of the Fantasia itself. The vocal versions drawn from the Greensleeves song in the opera are also generally faithful adaptations, quite effective in their own right.
-- Robert Cummings<br />
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