The Running Set is a brief composition for reduced, though not chamber-sized orchestra. Actually, the title of the work pertains to a dance that had disappeared from England by the time the composer wrote this work. But it could still be seen in certain parts of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Vaughan Williams used the themes from four folk dance tunes in The Running Set: "Barrack Hill," "The Blackthorn Stick," "Irish Reel," and "Cock o' the North." While these titles may sound quaint to us today, they were well-known items to Vaughan Williams, who had collected over 800 folk songs, arranging many for both vocal and instrumental combinations.
The Running Set begins with a lively, jovial tune ("Barrack Hill"), clothed in colorful orchestration, featuring much percussion, especially from the snare drum. The other aforementioned folk tunes follow in quick succession, all lively and each having somewhat Irish flavors. The music effervesces from first note to last and features driving, energetic rhythms throughout. Vaughan Williams wrote the work for the 1934 National Folk Dance Festival, in London. This six-minute piece will appeal to most listeners with an interest in light music of folk origin.