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Michael Montgomery: 6 Christmas Carols for double bass quartet

Michael Montgomery: 6 Christmas Carols for double bass quartet

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About the Quartets

6 Christmas Carols for the intermediate double bass quartet feature inventive and colourful arrangements of popular carols by Michael Montgomery. The use of harmonics adds new colours and textures and these are ideal for concert performance or simply to play with friends. The arrangements are engaging and instantly appealing and the melodic material is often shared between the players.  

Table of Contents

1. The lyrics of "Angels We Have Heard on High" were written by the Irish Roman Catholic priest James Chadwick (1813-1882), who in 1862 translated the lyrics to a traditional French song, "Les Anges dans nos campagnes" (first published in France 1843). The text is based largely on Luke 2:8-15, which describes the evening of the birth of Jesus, when shepherds in the fields encountered "a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” 

2. The words of the first two verses of "Away in a Manger," first appearing in print in a March 2, 1882 edition of the “The Christian Cynosure”, were at that time attributed to Martin Luther, though general consensus today supports an American origin for this text. The musical setting used for this quartet arrangement was composed by the American composer James Ramsey Murray (1841-1905) in 1887. (A second setting, entitled "Cradle Song", was written by William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) in 1895.) 

3. The melody for "Deck the Halls" comes to us from the 16th century Welsh song Nos Galan (“New Year's Eve”). The tune to this carol was originally used as a dance song and was accompanied by improvised singing. The "modern" English lyrics written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant (1799–1873) first appear in John Thomas's "Welsh Melodies with Welsh and English Poetry", published in 1862. It is interesting to note that Oliphant's lyrics were not at all a literal translation; he had, in fact, turned a New Year's Eve song into a Christmas Carol. 

4. William Sandys' (1792-1874) 1833 "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" marks the first publication of the traditional English carol "God Rest Ye Marry Gentlemen". It later appears in "A Book of Roxburghe Ballads", a collection of 1,341 broadside ballads from the seventeenth century, published in 1847 by John Payne Collier (1789–1883). The earliest printed copy of this carol, however dates back to 1760 ("Three New Christmas Carols"), and it is believed to have 15th or 16th century origins. 

5. The text of the song "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was included in John Wesley's (1707-1788) 1739 collection "Hymns and Sacred Poems". The tune used today for this Christmas carol is an adaptation of music originally composed by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): in 1855 English musician William H. Cummings (1831-1915) adapted a melody ("Vaterland, in deinen Gauen") of Mendelssohn's 1840 cantata "Festgesang" to fit the text. 

6. The text of a poem entitled "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", based on Luke 2:14, was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876) in 1849. At the time Sears, widely known as the author of a number of theological publications, was pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. In the following year, 1850, American composer Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900), a student of Felix Mendelssohn, wrote a melody called "Carol". The text of Sears' poem was soon after set to Willis’ melody, today the most widely used tune for this song in the United States. (In England "Noel", by Arthur Sullivan, seems to be the more popular setting.) 

Program notes by Michael Montgomery 

Double bassist Michael Montgomery, a student of Robert Rohe (Principal Bass, New Orleans Symphony) and Lucas Drew (Principal Bass, Miami Philharmonic), earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in double bass performance from the University of Miami, played full-time in the bass section of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra for two decades. 

He now lives in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, where he teaches double bass at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville and privately in his home studio. Michael has composed numerous works for young double bassists (including over five dozen short bass quartets for young students) which are published by Recital Music and two American publishers. 

His articles about bass performance, literature, and teaching have been published in American Suzuki Journal, Bass World, and Pastoral Music. 

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