VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Ralph – Fantasy on GREENSLEEVES (Old English Folk Song) – CELLO QUARTET (four cellos)


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Fantasy on GREENSLEEVES (Old English Folk Song)

based on the version by RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

prepared for 4 Cellos (Cello Quartet) by David Johnstone      


PDF 1 – General Score

PDF 2 – All Individual Cello Parts


EXAMPLES from the general score:




“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folk song. It was first registered in September 1580, and the tune is found in several other late-16th-century and early-17th-century sources.

There has been a persistent belief over the years that Greensleeves was actually composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn – however, the piece is clearly based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry’s death, making it much more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.

Greensleeves is also the tune for the classic Christmas carol ‘What Child Is This’. The 17th century English ballad, ‘Old England Grown New’ is a version of “Greensleeves”, also sometimes known as ‘The Blacksmith’ after another broadside ballad of the time.

Ralph Vaughan Williams incorporated Greensleeves as the song ‘Alas, My Love, You Do Me Wrong’ for Mistress Ford in Act III of his 1928 opera ‘Sir John in Love’. Its contrasting middle section is founded on another folk tune: ‘Lovely Joan’. In 1934 this creation was arranged for strings and harp, with Vaughan Williams’s blessing, by Ralph Greaves (1889–1966); this is the so familiar ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’. This is the base that David Johnstone uses for a cello quartet version, and a quartet as a chamber music work where all four voices share the melodic responsibility. He also adds as a suggestion extra repeated sections to add more concept of a concert piece, but these repeats are optional and personal.

The technical level might be classed as moderate-to-difficult; thumb position is required, and in not the friendliest key – F minor. Also smooth string crossing arpeggio figures are employed, and the pizzicatos in the lower voices need to be well controlled…. but, all in all, well playable by cellists of certain experience!



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