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Vaughan Williams, Ralph: Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire


SATB unaccompanied or solo/unison and piano

First published in 1920, the Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire have been entirely reset in a new and practical format, with the choral arrangements of the songs underlaid for all the verses and presented in open score alongside voice-and-keyboard versions for accompanied or solo performance. An acknowledged authority in the subject, Roy Palmer has provided fascinating notes on the texts and music. His preface places the collection in the context of Vaughan Williams’s lifelong interest in folk song both as collector and creative artist, and of his collaboration with Ella Mary Leather, who did much to preserve the folklore heritage of her native county and of the gipsy tradition in particular. The Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire have been recorded by baritone Derek Welton and pianist Iain Burnside on Albion Records ALBCD013.

1 The Holy Well (First Version)
2 The Holy Well (Second Version)
3 Christmas Now is Drawing Near at Hand
4 Joseph and Mary (to the tune of There is a Fountain)
5 God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
6 New Year’s Carol
7 The Angel Gabriel
8 On Christmas Day
9 Dives and Lazarus
10 The Miraculous Harvest (or The Carnal and the Crane)
11 The Saviour’s Love
12 The Seven Virgins (or Under the Leaves)

Vaughan Williams had a great interest in carols, collecting them from singers during his folk song collecting trips, and also arranging them for inclusion in The English Hymnal and, later, in The Oxford Book of Carols. A rich source of carols was Herefordshire, where he worked alongside the folklorist and collector Mrs Ella M. Leather, who was not a musician so needed someone to notate tunes. The community that held most of the carols was the Gypsies and Travellers, especially around Weobley.

Vaughan Williams was a frequent visitor here in the pre-1914 years, often staying in the area after the Three Choirs Festival. In addition to collecting folk songs, including carols, with Ella Leather, he also transcribed wax cylinder recordings that she made and sent to him.
Some of the songs they collected are included in her impressive collection, The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire (1912).

Leather and Vaughan Williams also arranged twelve of the carols for publication in 1920: as they wrote at the time, it was not a scientific collection and many of the carols drew on more than one collected version of words and tune. In editing the collection, Roy Palmer has not attempted to reconstitute versions of the carols from single sources, but has kept the words and tunes intact. The intention is that, once again, the collection should be available for people to sing.

The carols are arranged in four parts, though Roy repeats the original editors’ instructions that these can be dispensed with and the melodies sung without harmonies. As one might expect, Roy has added an informative preface, as well as detailed notes on each carol, thus putting the carols into context. There is also a CD of the carols, sung by baritone Derek Welton with piano accompaniment by Iain Burnside on the Albion Records label (Cat No. ALBCD013).

Derek Schofield, English Dance and Song Magazine

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