O Little Town of Bethlehem For String Quartet – No Christmas album would be complete without including one of the most memorable English carols ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ and this is why we included the Vaughan Jones arrangement of it on The Manor House String Quartet‘s second CD of Christmas carols entitled ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear and other carols’ (you can hear a sound sample of it by clicking on this link). The original melody is often known as ‘Forest Green’ as Ralph Vaughan Williams collected the tune ‘The Ploughboy’s Dream’ in 1903 from a Mr. Garman of Forest Green in Surrey. The words added to the melody were written by the American Episcopal Priest Phillips Brooks in 1868. It’s another example of a well-known carol which is known by a completely different melody in the United States to the one familiar in Britain. What is particularly intriguing is how the words and melody ended up together (a familiar story for many Christmas Carols!).
I felt that the key of F major particularly suited this tune and gave it a very warm, legato feel with a middle verse that has a little lift before settling back into a gentle lilt. There are no key modulations as the beauty of this particular melody is easily disturbed.
You can also purchase the sheet music of Vaughan’s arrangement for the combinations of string quartet and string orchestra here: