Today’s update on my Christmas Carols arrangement project will be somehow richer than the previous ones, since I want to share with you more about the process.
Come, ye lofty
First, let’s talk about today’s main character, the song Come, ye lofty. There is not too much information available on the context under which this song was written. We know that the music was composed by Sir George J. Elvey (1816—1893), an English organist and composer, while the words were penned by Archer Thompson Gurney, (1820—1887), a Church of England clergyman and hymnodist. The hymn “Come, ye lofty, come ye lowly”, first appeared in Gurney’s Christmas volume from 1852, under the more anonymous title “Christmas Hymn”. It was made up of five stanzas of eight lines each and, since then, appeared in several collections, one of which is the Stainer & Bramley’s Christmas Carols Old & New which I am using as source for my work.
In an effort to master the notational software Dorico in a project that didn’t need immediate publication, I started to recreate these carols one by one in a single big project that will come out some time during 2023. Coming this Christmas, 2022, I decided to expand my arrangements offering, starting from the very beginning (God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen). Come, ye lofty is the fourth title of the collection, and so here we are.
Original SATB version
The starting point is the SATB choir original version:
As you can see, the soprano and alto share the top staff, while the tenor and bass share the lower one. This is standard practice in choir scores where polyphony is not abundant. Since this song had five stanzas, there was no way I could have made it fit between the two staves without it looking embarrassing. Some songs are quite hard to sillabicate, and that’s why I always try to include as many strophes as possible.
Voice and piano reduction
The next step is the Voice and Piano reduction:
The voice line is, quite obviously, the soprano chorus line. Then, all the four parts were arranged between the two piano hands. It was not enough to just copy-paste, though, since the writing would have not been idiomatic for piano, and it would have not sounded as well as it could. Chords have been reshaped to better fit the piano’s right hand, while the left hand has been given the occasional harmony reinforcement where needed. The ear is always the best judge here, and only listening to this arrangement several times gives me the approving thumbs-up! The nice thing about this current method is that if someone wants it in another key, they can just drop me a message and ask for a transposed variant. Presently, it is in D major as the original version is, thus ideal for a soprano or tenor voice, but it can easily be arranged otherwise.
String Quartet version
There are plenty of Christmas Carols collections already available for String Quartet, but I felt the need of providing my own as well.
Most of these songs err on the kind side for the top voice, a wise choice since not all choruses are made up of professional singers, quite the contrary. This means that, at least for the first violin, the melody would never touch the first string, which is undesired. As with other songs in D major, I have transposed this up to G major (in other occasions I went up to A major), and it works quite well. Another important aspect to consider is that the homorhythmical proceeding of the choir part is not going to sound as well on strings. Therefore, every time a note is repeated, I considered whether to leave the rhythm as is, or to make it into a longer note. Once more, the best balance could be discovered only through listening to it many times.
After this, I had to make the parts playable, since the choir doesn’t need bowing suggestions! Once the first violin was done, I adapted the other instruments, imagining them playing so that they would all be down-bow at crucial moments. I have to say I am quite satisfied with the result.
Cello Quartet version
The last part of the job was to adapt the String Quartet version to Cello Quartet. This time, I had to go back to D major, for two reasons:
- The G major, while possible to play, would have cut out many student ensembles.
- By staying in D major, the top part is all firmly set in the most comfortable thumb position available, making it quite accessible for a student just beginning with thumb usage.
Here’s a taste of this version:
For this specific song, leaving D major made the fourth cello somewhat uncomfortable, since the lowest notes would have been A and B below the bottom C. Those had to be brought up one octave, and the melodic contour had to be adjusted slightly. The overall sounding result should be good, though!
Where to find this?
This song, all others currently available, and all those I will make in the future, are available here, organised by instrumentation:
- SATB Choir: access it here.
- Voice and Piano: access it here.
- String Quartet: access it here.
- Cello Quartet: access it here.
In the past, since I was only arranging one song sporadically, I was publishing a different product for each song. This would have required a lot more of work and, possibly, hindered their discoverability. I hope this will be more comfortable for everyone.
Even if I have said, in the first episode, that I would have created ten Christmas Carols arrangements, I will stop this streak after the next one, number five.
My next song should come out during the next couple of days, and you can expect a presentation article about that as well. Subsequently, I want to publish a new score which has been long in the preparing, and it should be immediately available for digital download and print on demand. My general strategy now will be as follows: one new digital-and-print-ready publication, adaptation of an already published edition for printing, arrangement of a Christmas Carol, then repeat from the beginning. I have about seventy Christmas carols to do, which should keep me busy for a long time!
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That’s it for today!
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