In 1920 Vaughan Williams wrote a collection entitled Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano. Later, musicologist James Brown, under the direction of the composer, arranged the set for string orchestra, after which the work was given the title of Charterhouse Suite and published in 1923. All six pieces are short, with the whole lasting about 13 or 14 minutes in performance. Vaughan Williams was generally not terribly successful in his piano compositions; his style was better suited to the orchestral realm, particularly to the string orchestra. Thus the decision to arrange this collection was a wise one, and most will find the Charterhouse Suite superior to the original version of the music for piano.
The first piece in the set is Prelude, a lovely, mellow piece, marked Molto moderato quasi lento, reminiscent at times of the composer's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910). The remaining five sections (Slow Dance -- Andante grazioso; Quick Dance -- Allegro molto; Slow Air -- Lento; Rondo -- Andante con moto; and Pezzo ostinato -- Allegretto) carry some of this same atmosphere but also display a mixture of the rural and the regal, the folkish and the gossamer. That the music has a kinship in places (its slow music in particular) with the Tallis Fantasia will come as no surprise, since Vaughan Williams had revised that composition in 1919, a year before beginning work on the original version of the present work. While this is not a major effort in the composer's output, it is a pleasant and wholly appealing collection that divulges Vaughan Williams' less serious colorful side.