Personent Hodie for String Quartet – The 12th track on the Manor House String Quartet‘s popular disc of Christmas carols for string quartet, called ‘I Saw Three Ships and other carols’ is a little bit of a departure from the rest. Personent Hodie is one of the oldest carols on the album, the earliest source of it appears in a manuscript found in Bavaria dating from 1361 (you can listen to an excerpt by clicking on the following link:¬†http://www.manorhousemusic.co.uk/product/i-saw-three-ships/¬†). The title translates as ‘On This Day’ and other composers have harmonised it, most notably Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
As the Holst arrangement is so universally known in this country, the arranger Vaughan Jones wanted to get away from it and give the melody a fresh treatment for string quartet. Thinking of it’s origins, he tried to convey a mediaeval feel and therefore harmonised the first and third verses in the style of 14th century unaccompanied vocal music, making use of fifths and octaves and avoiding the use of thirds and sixths (which were considered unholy at the time). These are interposed with two ‘dances’ which are rhythmic and add a contrast to the sombre verses. These dances again take rhythms which would have been used in the 14th century and hopefully capture the flavour of street music, conjuring up pipes and hurdy gurdys!
Placed in the middle of the disc, it adds a climax to the first half and something a little bit unaccustomed to our modern ear.
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: