I was delighted to hear ‘Dick’s Maggot’ from Ernest Tomlinson’s First Suite of English Folk Dances on Classic FM the other day. (12 January 2018). This suite is a charming little bit of rural England dished up for full orchestra. Fortunately, there are plenty more tunes where this comes from. The 1st Suite has six dances, all with evocative titles: ‘Jenny Pluck Pears’, ‘Ten Pound Lass’, ‘Dick’s Maggot’, ‘Nonesuch’, ‘Hunt the Squirrel’ and ‘Woodcock’. I am not so sure that Squirrel Hunts are quite the thing in 2018. However, the entire suite makes for enjoyable listening. And the good news is there is a 2nd Suite. More about that later, perhaps.
The story of Ernest Tomlinson’s (1924-2015) enthusiasm for English folk-tunes deserves to be recalled, with the help of the liner notes of the Marco Polo CD (see below for disc details). Sixty-seven years ago, the English Folk-Dance and Song Society held a major New Year Festival of Folk-Dance at the Royal Albert Hall (5 January 1951) The 27-year-old Tomlinson and his wife were present in the audience. At the end of the first act, two fiddlers played the old English dance Jenny Pluck Pears. On a darkened stage, three couples, dressed in 17th century costumes danced. Tomlinson was hooked by the magic, the history and the music. Shortly after the concert, he began work on the score of the First Suite of English Folk Dances. It was completed the same year.
Ernest Tomlinson utilised John Playford’s book The Dancing Master, first published in 1650. The six dances noted above were extracted and arranged for orchestra.
For many years, Dick’s Maggot was used as the signature tune to Steve Race’s Invitation to Music programme on the BBC Radio 4.
The Gramophone (March 1995) reviewer is generous with his praise. He considers that ‘Dick’s Maggott’ will be ‘the most familiar number from the suite’ but suggests that the ‘Hunt the Squirrel’ is hardly less delightful.’ He concluded by insisting that the ‘whole suite deserves to rank as a classic in the British orchestral repertory.’ Alas, although some of these dances are occasionally heard on the radio, this Suite has never really become popular, like other works such as Vaughan Williams’ Folksong Suite and John Rutter’s Suite for Strings.
The performance of ‘Dick’s Maggot’ on Classic FM noted above, was played by Iain Sutherland and his Concert Orchestra. (ALC1192). The entire First Suite of English Folk Dances was released in 1994 on Marco Polo 8.223515. It is played by the Slovak Radio Orchestra conducted by the composer. This CD is available as a download. ‘Dick’s Maggot’ and ‘Hunt the Squirrel’ are available as a sample on YouTube.