While Shepherds Watched for String Quartet – The fourth carol on the Manor House String Quartet‘s first disc of string quartet Christmas carol arrangements, entitled ‘I Saw Three Ships and other carols’ is another enduring favourite – ‘While Shepherds Watched’. This carol was originally called ‘Winchester Old’ and appears in Este’s Psalter of 1592 but the words weren’t added until Irish poet Nahum Tate (who was poet laureate) wrote them – first making an appearance in the 1700 supplement to the ‘New Version of the Psalms of David’ published in 1696.
When violinist Vaughan Jones began arranging this carol for string quartet, a melody was added which seemed to compliment the existing tune very nicely. When a carol has such a distinctive melody as ‘While Shepherds Watched’, it isn’t necessary to become too elaborate with a string arrangement as it’s important to keep the character of the tune – without too much embellishment. Once Vaughan had the two melodies, all the Christmas carol then required was sympathetic string harmonies which weaved around the tune. Later on in the arrangement, the tune is joined by a very springy upward bass line (played by the cello) and lightly pulsating inner parts, which gives the piece real buoyancy.
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: