Fantasy on Scarborough Fair is an English ballad which is at least 300 years old containing a well-known melody. Its story is about a young man and woman asking the listener to tell this same young man and woman (who are former lovers) to perform tasks for each other that are essentially impossible. An example is where she is asked to make him a shirt without a seam and wash it in a dry well. If they do these tasks for each other, then they will take each other back. The title (Scarborough Fair) comes from the opening words of the ballad where he asks her if she is going to this annual fair in Yorkshire. Although the words might be described as somewhat frivolous in nature, I found the melody to have strong potential for emotional expression and dramatic development.
For me, I hear first and foremost an explicit sense of pathos and melancholy in the Scarborough Fair melody and this is the primary emotional atmosphere I tried to create when writing this work. Fantasy to Scarborough Fair thus explores what I feel is the essential nature of its melody – one primarily tinged with sadness and sorrow.
The work is in eight sections: 1. an opening drone introducing melodic fragments of the Scarborough Fair theme (mm. 1-40); 2. two statements of the Scarborough Fair theme (mm. 41-93); 3. a new contrasting theme (mm. 94-121); 4. a second contrasting theme; this theme will also be used in the next section as a countermelody against the Scarborough Fair theme (mm. 122-146); 5. the Scarborough Fair theme is combined with the countermelody (mm. 147-172); 6. the first contrasting theme (introduced in section 3) reappears here (mm. 173-211); 7. three final statements of the Scarborough Fair theme, the first and last of these are combined with its countermelody (mm. 212-294); and 8. a final ending coda which begins with a modified restatement of the very beginning of the piece (mm. 295-365).