The Shepherds’ Farewell For String Quartet Vaughan Jones, the arranger of all the tracks on the Manor House String quartet‘s second collection of Christmas carols ‘It Came Upon The midnight Clear and other carols’ reduced this particular piece from full orchestra down to string quartet (you can hear a sound sample of it by following the link). The full title of Hector Berlioz’s ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ is ‘L’Adieu des Bergers a la Sainte Famille’ (‘The Shepherds Bid Farewell to the Holy Family’). It is from Part 2 of his oratorio ‘L’Enfance du Christ’ (‘The Childhood of Christ’) which is a trilogy based on the holy family’s flight into Egypt.
From a musical performance point of view, what is interesting about ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ is the tempo indication¬†given by the composer. He clearly marks the piece ‘Allegretto’ and even gives it a metronome marking of 55 crotchets a minute. This is at variance with almost every recording I’ve ever heard of the piece. Indeed, if this marking is to be taken literally, it would mean performing it at almost double the speed we are accustomed to! I have to say that I find most performances of it rather dreary and it really does come alive when performed nearer to the composer’s specified tempo marking. We opted for a slight compromise and felt that it gave the piece back a little freshness. Also, the combination of the string quartet gives the piece intimacy and allows the ear to settle on the richness of Berlioz’s harmonies: one of our favourites from this disc!
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: