'I Saw Three Ships' is an album of traditional Christmas Carols including some well loved favourites as well as a few neglected gems. All the pieces on this album have been imaginatively recreated for string quartet by arranger and violinist Vaughan Jones.
The carols are performed by the Manor House String Quartet:
Violins: Vaughan Jones and Louise Bevan, Viola: Adrian Smith and Violoncello: Julia Graham
The arrangements on this album vary from baroque to classical re-workings of popular carols, often with a basis in the folk tradition from which many of them are derived.
This disc is an ideal soundtrack to the Christmas holiday season and will appeal to those who enjoy classical, chamber or folk music - or those who simply want to hear something festive and uplifting.
The idea behind arranging the carols on this disc was to capture the spirit of these memorable melodies whilst unlocking their musical potential. In each case (with the exception of the two Charpentier Noels), I have taken the single line melody as the starting point. All harmonisations and variations have been approached from scratch with many original counter melodies and other such material written as an extension to the original source. In this way, they are more ‘recreations’ than ‘arrangements’ in the traditional sense. Vaughan Jones 2010
I Saw Three Ships. The origin of the words to this carol are shrouded in mystery as Bethlehem is land locked and therefore couldn’t have had three ships sailing to it’s port. In an effort to interpret it, some have suggested the ‘Ships’ refer to the ‘Three Wise Men’. This traditional carol however is possibly a marriage of Christian and pre-Christian lore with the ships unique to the Norse culture and ceremonial purposes. The saying that ‘your ship has come in’ implies something lucky that has befallen a person, so the appearance of Three Ships sailing in on Christmas morning could only be an omen of good fortune!
We Three Kings of Orient Are. Both words and music were written by the Reverend John Henry Hopkins Jr. and appeared in his ‘Carols, Hymns and Songs of 1863’ but was probably written in 1857 for the General Theological Seminary’s Christmas Pageant in New York. Hopkins later became Rector of Christ’s Church in Williamsport Pennsylvania and aside from his religious duties was a book illustrator and stained glass artist.
Ding Dong! Merrily on High. This tune first appeared in a 16th century French secular dance book called ‘Orchesographie’ and gained its’ words from the English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward whose interest in Church bell ringing lead to the lines ‘In Heav’n the bells are ringing’ and ‘Let steeple bells be swungen’
While Shepherds Watched. Sung as a hymn and a carol, this melody was originally entitled ‘Winchester Old’ from Este’s Psalter of 1592. The words are attributed to the Irishman Nahum Tate who became England’s Poet Laureate and they first appeared in the 1700 supplement to the 1696 ‘New Version of the Psalms of David’.
The Holly and the Ivy. This probably has its’ roots in Pagan usage, the holly referring to the masculine principle and the ivy to the feminine. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, holly and ivy were also regularly used in church decoration. Although there are several known sources to this melody, Cecil Sharp collected it from a lady in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire in the early 20th century.
Silent Night. This famous carol was written on Christmas Eve 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to a poem written two years earlier by Father Joseph Mohr. Gruber and Mohr were respectively organist and Priest at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria and the carol was sung by the two men at Christmas Mass with Father Mohr playing his guitar and the last two lines of each verse sung by the choir.
Deck the Hall. This was an old Welsh air which became a popular New Years carol with words by the poet John Ceiriog Hughes entitled ‘Nos Galan’ (New Years Eve). The words are anything but religious with lines such as ‘…fill the mead cup, drain the barrel’ and ‘…laughing, quaffing, all together…’
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Some believe this melody to have originated in the 16th century but it first appeared in a carol broadsheet in around 1760 which described it as a new carol. The word ‘rest’ means ‘keep’ and the ‘ye’ seems to be a later embellishment as the 18th century common term would have been ‘you’.
In Dulci Jubilo. This is thought to be a 14th century German melody and one of the oldest ‘macaronic’ songs which combined latin with a vernacular language. The story goes that the Dominican Monk Heinrich Suso had a vision in which angels danced to the tune of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ (In Sweet Jubilation’). Suso later wrote that ‘…they drew the servant (Suso) by the hand into the dance and the angel began a joyous song about the infant Jesus…’
Away in a Manger. This was spuriously attributed to Martin Luther (some going so far as to claim that he sang it as a lullaby to his children) but the true origins of this carol may stem back to 1883, which was the 400th anniversary of his birth. The words were first published by James R Murray in an 1885 Lutheran Sunday School book whereas the melody was written by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895.
Here We Come A-Wassailing. The ‘wassailing’ of the title refers to the practice of singing from door to door which often resulted in a gift of a certain spiced punch drink. In old English, the word ‘wassail’ is a wish for good health. The carol originated in the north of England and was first published in Bramley and Stainers ‘Oxford Book of Carols’ in 1871.
Personent Hodie. This carol was originally published in the 1582 Finnish song book ‘Piae Cantiones’ but a melody found in a 1360 manuscript in the Bavarian city of Moosburg is similar and it is from this source that the tune is usually dated. The title can be translated as ‘On This Day, Sing Aloud’. In this particular arrangement, I have tried to evoke a 14th century feel by predominantly writing in fourths, fifths and octaves, resulting in an archaic sound unfamiliar to the modern ear.
Coventry Carol. The only existing facsimile of this carol is a 1591 manuscript for the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors of Coventry. The mournful melody accompanies tragic words which describe a lullaby to a ‘little tiny child’ on the day charged by Herod to slay the innocent children.
Joseph est Bien Marie and Laissez Paitres vos Betes. These works are two of nine Christmas Carols (or Noels) written for the Midnight Mass by the French composer Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643 – 1704). Both have a dance like quality and are a belated addition to the canon of Christmas melodies by a great French composer. The translation of the titles are ‘Joseph is Well Married’ and ‘Let Your Beasts Graze’.
In the Bleak Midwinter. This was written in 1909 and it is thought that it’s composer Gustav Holst (1874- 1934) was inspired by the village of Cranham in Gloucestershire. It was here that his mother Clara Lediard lived when she met her future husband, the music teacher Adolf Holst. It is thought that Gustav had many happy memories of visiting his Grandparents in Cranham and wrote the music to accompany a poem written by Christina Rossetti.
The First Nowell. The First Nowell started life as a folk melody, possibly originating in Cornwall – it was first published in ‘Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern’ (1823). ‘Nowell’ or ‘Noel’ could originally derive from the latin ‘natalis’ meaning ‘birth’. Peasants apparently sang this carol as they lit the Yule Log, a Norse tradition involving a hollowed out log which was filled with aromatic herbs and spices. The log would be kept burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas.
Once in Royal David’s City. The poem which this carol is based on was written by Cecil Frances Alexander and published in 1848 in her ‘Hymns for Little Children’. A year later, the organist Henry John Gauntlett set the poem to music. Since 1919, the Kings College Chapel in Cambridge has traditionally opened the Christmas Eve Service entitled ‘Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ with ‘Once in Royal David’s City’.
Angels from the Realms of Glory. The words for this are by the English Poet James Montgomery and was first published on Christmas Eve 1816. It was set to a number of melodies but soon became established when sung to the French tune ‘Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes’ which is the form we know today.
Gabriel’s Message. Sometimes known as ‘The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came’, this is an old Basque Christmas folk melody, whose words were translated by Sabine Baring – Gould. It tells of the Angel Gabriel communicating the importance of Mary’s imminent birth as ‘…thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold…’
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The name ‘Emmanuel’ literally translates as ‘God With Us’ and this hymn (which has it’s basis in plainchant) is one of the oldest surviving carols. It may stem from 15th century Franciscan nuns or even have 8th century Gregorian origins. The words depict the prophesy of the Messiah six centuries before the birth of Christ.
O Come, All Ye Faithful. Also known as ‘Adeste Fidelis’, this is attributed to the English hymnist John Francis Wade who included the tune and words in his own publication ‘Cantus Diversi’ of 1751. It is a bold and uplifting melody which has become universally popular at Christmas time.
The Wexford Carol is a traditional Irish carol, also known as ‘The Enniscorthy Carol’ or ‘Carul Loch Garman’. The text may well have been translated from English to Gaelic and added to the tune later. The words tell of Joseph and Mary being refused lodging ‘the night before the happy tide’ until all that was left to them was a stable. The Irish Carol was a traditional song which gained it’s words from the 17th century Bishop Luke Wadding who wrote hymns and carols to folk tunes. It originally had words with a much coarser meaning! As both carols originate from the area of Wexford, in this arrangement they have been joined together to form a medley.
The Manor House String Quartet are based in Buckinghamshire, England. The group specialise in performing neglected chamber works by composers such as Spohr, Ries, Arensky and Gade, The quartet have also initiated a series of themed and less formal concerts of more popular works, presented by the players themselves. Their Christmas concerts have attracted a following, with the majority of the works performed being original carol arrangements by Vaughan Jones (violin). The works on this disc represent some of the best loved carols performed by the group.
Vaughan Jones (Violin and Arranger)
Vaughan is a prolific string arranger who began learning the violin at the age of 8, going on to play with many of the leading London Orchestras before concentrating more fully on chamber music. Latterly he has studied with Hungarian violinist and teacher Kato Havas and plays on a modern hand made violin by luthier Martin McClean of Northern Ireland.
In 2008 he released a critically acclaimed disc of works for violin and viola by Spohr, Rolla and Kalliwoda with the violist Reiad Chibah (Manor House Music 001).
Louise Bevan (Violin)
Louise also composes and arranges music alongside a busy career as a violinist working frequently with The Royal Shakespeare Company, the CBSO and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Louise plays on a modern violin, made in 1982 by luthier William Luff and has worked with several contemporary composers, touring extensively within the U.K and abroad.
Adrian Smith (Viola)
As a soloist Adrian has performed much of the Viola repertoire including London performances of pieces such as the Bartok concerto and Hindemith Trauermusik while maintaining a busy life as a chamber musician. He has recently begun playing on a modern American Viola made in 2007 by Morell of New York City.
Julia Graham (Violoncello)
Having held positions with English National Opera, English Sinfonia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Julia currently enjoys an active career as a freelance cellist - playing regularly with the English Chamber Orchestra and the London Chamber Orchestra amongst others. Julia is in demand as an orchestral and chamber musician, appearing on many classical and West End recordings. Julia’s ‘cello is an instrument made in 1830 by William Booth.