This cantata was adapted from the composer's opera, Sir John in Love (1924 - 1928). As most Vaughan Williams enthusiasts know, the composer's operas often relied heavily on the chorus. Hugh the Drover (1910 - 1914) is a prime example of this tendency, but even the more soloist-oriented Sir John in Love had its share of choral music. More importantly, though, it had solo and ensemble numbers that adapted well to a choral setting, such as "Sigh no more, ladies," which was sung by Mrs. Page (soprano) and Mrs. Quickly (mezzo-soprano) in the opera, but fashioned in the cantata for the female chorus members in the opening section.
The opera used texts mainly from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, and in In Windsor Forest Vaughan Williams used those same texts, but added some in the third section: "Falstaff and the Fairies," from Thomas Ravenscroft (ca. 1592 - 1635), John Lyly (ca. 1554 - 1606), and from Shakespeare.
This cantata is cast in five sections and lasts about 15 or 16 minutes. The first movement, "The Conspiracy," marked Allegro, is largely celebratory in mood and features women's voices throughout. Some of the choral passages, especially where the voices leap to their highest ranges, strike a truly ecstatic mood of joy and exuberance. The next section, "Drinking Song" (Allegro pesante), is scored for male voices and has a scherzo-ish manner in its wit, tempered by a folkish character in its rollicking gruffness.
The aforementioned third section, "Falstaff and the Fairies" (Allegretto), maintains the lively flow, but is comparatively subdued, even gossamer in places, the full chorus finally joining together. "The Wedding Chorus," the fourth item here, carries the only slow marking, Andante moderato. It features a lovely theme in Vaughan Williams' rich post-Romantic vein.
The last section, "Epilogue" (Moderato maestoso), is regal and majestic, featuring an incandescent, joyous theme that immediately sears into the memory, and contrapuntal writing of utter rhythmic splendor. Even for those who know the opera, this light choral offshoot ought to offer much listening pleasure.