I Saw Three Ships

Composer
trad.
Year of composition
1666
Arranger
Difficulty
Moderate (Grades 4-6)
Duration
1 minute
Genre
Other
Instrumentation
String quartet
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This carol's text comes from William Sandys' Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern - one of the most significant collections of English carols ever compiled. It takes as its subject the grand final voyage of the relics of the magi - the three kings from the story of the nativity - which were eventually installed in jeweled caskets in Cologne cathedral. The familiar, and now somewhat standardized, version is only one of many variants that have existed over the centuries, and may represent a conglomeration of English, German, and Italian folk versions.

The tune, likewise, has several variants, and is said to resemble Sir Toby Belch's "There lived a man in Babylon" from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The most commonly-heard version is that recorded in Bramley and Stainer's Christmas Carols New and Old (1878).

This arrangement comes with an additional third violin part, and an optional bass part for use with string orchestra.

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