Lute Book Lullaby for String Quartet – The Manor House String Quartet included this haunting Elizabethan melody as part of their second collection of Christmas carols, entitled ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear and other carols’. It is often called ‘Sweet Was the Song’ but is also known as the ‘Lute Book Lullaby’ as it originates from William Ballet’s collection of lute music which dates from 1600 and is now housed in the library at Trinity College in Dublin. It is an important collection that gives us an insight into the melodies popular in late Elizabethan England.
The arranger Vaughan Jones found that the main challenge in harmonising the melody was to try and not be overly influenced by all the previous harmonisations! Also to imagine that it was to be played by a small consort of viols rather than being sung by a choir. The melody has a dignity and power which is deeply moving and you can hear a sample of us playing it by following the above link.
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: