In the years immediately preceding World War I, Vaughan Williams, who had begun collecting folk songs in 1903, was busy arranging many of them for choral settings. In 1912, for example, the year he set Ward the Pirate, he arranged Eleven Folksongs for Schools, Fifteen Folksongs of England, and numerous individual items, such as Down Among the Dead Men, Allister McAlpine's Lament, and The Carter. Ward the Pirate was the first of six folk songs the composer arranged in the latter part of that productive year, though he did not choose to assemble this half-dozen into a collection, as was his practice. Ward the Pirate was scored for mixed chorus and small orchestra, but is often performed by unaccompanied chorus.
The song begins vigorously with the words, "Come all you gallant seamen bold/All you that march to drum." The choral writing for the first verse is unison, but changes to polyphonic thereafter. The melody is jolly and full of color, the kind of hearty creation one would associate with a sea song about an invincible rogue named Captain Ward. The music has a slapdash character in its merriment, though it is anything but slapdash: while Vaughan Williams imparts gaiety and rhythmic cheer to the energetic melody of the folk song, he does not treat it condescendingly, nor does he alter its folkish essence. This is an attractive arrangement that will appeal to those with an interest in folk music, especially folk music relating to the sea.