The Twelve Days of Christmas for String Quartet – When I came to choose and arrange the carols for our second album, ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear and other carols’, one of the first pieces I wrote down was ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ – a traditional and well loved melody that could be arranged in an inventive and entertaining way for strings, making use of various playing techniques for each of the twelve days. The arrangement was completed and the track recorded and it was only when I came to write the sleeve notes for the album that I realised the piece was not just a traditional melody as I had assumed!
The first part of the song is certainly traditional and therefore falls in the public domain (meaning that it is out of copyright and can be performed and sold as a recording without obtaining a license from the owner of the publishing). However, the part from ‘five gold rings’ onwards was added much later by a composer called Frederick Austin who died in 1952. As his work is still in U.K copyright (until 70 years after his death), I needed to seek permission from the publishers to license the recording – in this case Novello.
Novello had a meeting about my request and replied (quite understandably) that 33.3% of any income from this one piece on the album would be payable as publishing royalties. As every other piece on the album was traditional and needed no additional copyright clearance, the administration involved in working out 33.3% of the income from one track – (be it a physical disc, download or online stream) would be so time consuming that we decided reluctantly, not to include this one track which would have finished off the album.
Nevertheless, ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear and other carols’ has a collection of 23 carols for string quartet which all suit the medium well – so hopefully there is enough variety to satisfy the listener!
Here is a video of our arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells’ for string quartet: