It was said of Vaughan Williams that he never considered any musical task, no matter how unrewarding or unimportant, beneath him. An inveterate arranger of both folk songs and hymns for most of his career -- not exactly rewarding work, to begin with -- he took on the seemingly even less consequential task of arranging 11 folk songs for schools. The set is known as Folksongs for Schools (for unison chorus, with piano accompaniment) and was published in Novello's School Songs, as Book No. 232. Down by the Riverside is No. 1135 in the collection.
While much of the music in the set is simple and straightforward, it cannot be dismissed as lightweight art. The song begins with the words, "'Tis down by the riverside a fair maid I espied/She was lamenting for her own true love." The mood in the song shifts from the jaunty brightness of the first part of the vocal line to the regretful gentleness of its latter half. Whenever the subject of the maiden's "lamenting" arises in the text, in fact, the music turns soft and slightly rueful. Vaughan Williams' piano accompaniment is light and uncomplicated, deftly suited to the innocence and charm of the text and tune. This is a fine, if simple folk song arrangement that will appeal to those with an interest in the genre.