Richard Lambert Music

Folk Song Suite (Op.2b)

A lively symphonic suite of folk tunes for concert band, comprising eight spirituals, work songs, Scottish reels and Hebrew melodies

A transcription of Op.2 for a concert band (picc, fl (div), ob, 3 clar, bsn, alto sax, ten. sax, 4 horns, 3 cnts, 3 tromb, euph, tuba, timps, 4 perc)

Dedicated to Major Wayne Hopla, Director of Music, Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas

This work for concert band was written in 2009, an extensive symphonic re-working of Folk Song Suite (Op.2) for young voices and chamber orchestra, originally arranged and first performed in 1975.

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 use of simple canon, counter melodies, changing ostinati and colourful orchestration.

It merges into Zum gali gali (these are rhythmic words with no meaning). This is 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. Three verses of The Tinker’s Wedding lead straight into a medley of reels.

After a rather unexpected and thinly scored return of the first reel, Cock o’ the North, the full band interrupts 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 an enthusiastic shout!

The third movement is a gentle jazz-style arrangement in G minor of the spiritual Go Down Moses. It is based on a 4-bar descending chord scheme with ‘bluesy’ instrumental solos, and a recurring 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 customary, its initial steady tempo gradually gains momentum, and races to a rousing conclusion.

  1. This old hammer - zum gali gali - This old hammer
  2. The Tinker's Wedding - Scottish reels (Cock o' the north; haste to the wedding; Rakes of Mallow; Ballantine's Rant)
  3. Go down Moses
  4. Hava nagilah

Folk Song Suite has also been transcribed for young voices and piano.


For those concert bands which have enjoyed playing the folk song arrangements of V.W., Holst, Gordon Jacob and latterly Philip Sparke, Richard Lambert's Folk Song Suite would be a welcome addition to the repertoire. The suite stands up well alongside those celebrated composers of the genre and is packed full of well-known and not so well-known folk melodies (not all British) which pass smoothly from one to the other and arrive in a breathless helter-skelter at the finale. The orchestration is handled well and is well balanced with all instruments getting equal attention. It is a busy piece with very little let-up in pace in the outer two movements. It is not a particularly easy piece, there are technical demands made on all the instrumental sections and I would say it would suit a county wind orchestra or advanced music service concert band. The suite would provide a fitting end to any concert.

Malcolm Crane


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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