Richard Lambert Music

Folk Song Suite (Op.2)

A lively suite of folk tunes for children’s voices (suitable for ages 10–14), solo violin and chamber orchestra

  1. This old hammer/zum gali gali
  2. The Tinker's Wedding and instrumental jigs
  3. Go down Moses
  4. Hava nagilah

This was arranged in May/June 1975, and first performed at the Lord Grey School, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK, on the 1st July that year. The orchestration was revised (mainly by adding optional instrumentation) in 2008.

Designed primarily for use in schools, this piece would suit young voices aged 10–14 years old, accompanied by a competent school orchestra, which may require some 'stiffening'. The composer has taken into account that different schools will have different forces available, and has therefore made the orchestration as versatile as possible.

The suite is a compilation of eight wide-ranging folk-songs and melodies; negro spiritual, work song, Scottish reels and Hebrew melodies.

The first movement, in a ternary structure, has a slightly austere mood, with a persistent E minor pedal in keeping with the monotony inherent in this work song - This Old Hammer (Killed John Henry).

John Henry was born a slave in the mid-19th century in North Carolina or Virginia, USA; and died in his thirties as a labourer for the railroad after the American Civil War.

The repetition is deliberate; variety is achieved through the use of simple canon in the voices; colour in the orchestration; and changing ostinato patterns in the harmony. It merges into Zum gali gali (these are rhythmic words with no meaning), an old Hebrew song, ostensibly relating to the formation of the state of Israel, but treated here as if it is another work song, before a reprise of This Old Hammer.

The mood changes with a lively D major movement, based on Scottish music. Four verses of The Tinker’s Wedding lead straight into a medley of reels for solo violin with a simple percussive accompaniment.

After a rather unexpected return of the first reel, Cock o’ the North, the singers and full orchestra interrupt fortissimo, with a reprise of the chorus of The Tinker’s Wedding, this time, the two tunes slotting together and rushing towards a triumphant climax, finishing with a choral shout.

The third movement is a gentle arrangement in G minor of Go Down Moses. It is based on a 4-bar descending chord scheme with ‘bluesy’ instrumental solos, and a recurring, wordless choral introduction to each verse in descending thirds.

A climactic modulatory transition links the spiritual to the final movement, Hava Nagilah, a Hasidic melody of uncertain origin and now a Hebrew folk-song (“let us rejoice”), which has become almost an anthem of secular Jewish culture. As is customary, its initial steady tempo gradually gains momentum, and races to a rousing conclusion.

The composer has also transcribed Folk Song Suite for young voices and piano and for concert band.

The orchestration has been arranged in such a way as to allow a smaller group of instruments to be complete in itself: the oboe, bassoon, trombone, viola, double bass and timpani parts, whilst desirable, are all optional.

The Scottish reel section (J–N), can be shortened if necessary, by omitting some, or all, of the repeats. This section requires a very competent solo violinist (from within the orchestra) but if necessary, the part can be taken by several players or even other instruments.


  1. 1 July 1975 at Lord Grey school, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire
  2. 3 July 1975 at Lord Grey school, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire
  3. 6 July 1976 at William Ransom JMI school, Hitchin, Hertfordshire
  4. 17 July 1976 at Ward Freman school, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, with Anne Ashby (McNaughton) (violin)
  5. 28 January 1977 at Bassingbourn Music Club, Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, with Jill Weaver (violin)
  6. 22 July 1992 at Tannery Drift school, Royston, Hertfordshire, with Janet Hicks (violin) and Pam Lambert (conductor)
  7. 4 October 1992 at St John the Baptist church, Royston, Hertfordshire, with Janet Hicks (violin). Performed at Royston Arts Festival
  8. 14 May 1994 at St Christopher school, Letchworth, Hertfordshire. Young Singers, Choir and school orchestra with Minako Tsuchihashi (violin)
  9. 12 November 1998 Rowland Brown Hall, St Helen's School, Northwood. Laura Kwan and Jenny Pang (violin soloists), Middle School Choir and Sinfonia.
  10. 22 October 1999 at Scuola Media Statale, Riccione, Italy, with Samantha Vong (violin)
  11. 22 October 1999 at Teatro da Rimini, Rimini, Italy, with Samantha Vong (violin)


This recording of Folk Song Suite was produced using computer software called Sibelius: it is not a live recording.


You can view and purchase the score of Folk Song Suite from Score Exchange.

If you wish to listen to the piece on that website, select the ‘MP3 file’ link instead of playing the embedded score for better audio quality.

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