Past Three O’ Clock for String Quartet – This melody works perfectly in the Manor House String Quartet‘s rendition on their second album of Christmas Carols ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear and other carols’. The words to this splendid Christmas carol were written by George Ratcliffe Woodward for the ‘Cambridge carol book’ of 1924. He based them on the cry of the city night watchman and added them to an existing refrain that has it’s origins in Playford’s ‘Dancing Master’ of the 17th century. The tune is a traditional melody named ‘London Waits’ , the ‘waits’ being musicians who oftened performed at night for gifts and charitable donations. One critical observer from 1837 wrote: ‘These are a set of men that goe about the streets playing musick in the night after people are in bed and a sleepe. Some people are very fond of hearing them, but for my own part, I don’t admire being aroused from a sound sleep by a whole band of musick and perhaps not get to sleep again for an houre or two’.
The carol is unusual in that it begins with the refrain; here, in an arrangement by Vaughan Jones it is given a very staccato feel before giving way to a more languid verse. The instrumentation varies with each rendition before a fragment of the theme in canon leads to a rousing ending!
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: