A Gertus History of Christmas Music

I love Christmas music; for me, it is the best thing about the holiday season. Unsurprisingly, composers love Christmas music too and have been churning out carols, oratorios, motets, quartets, and nearly every other form of music to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In that spirit, I have compiled a playlist, starting (as this blog did) with the 11th century composer Hildegard von Bingen and closes with contemporary composer Arvo Part, with plenty of the familiar and unfamiliar along the way (with one cheat to be discussed in Saturday’s entry). All tracks are presented in chronological order. Each one a masterpiece, but I cannot help be struck by Arnold Schoenberg’s contribution to this list. Stripped away is the severe image of the composer most credited with destroying “classical” music through his slavish adherence to unpopular atonal compositions: In the soft light of Christmas, Schoenberg finds in his heart, not to mention some modidcum of classical tonality, as he riffs on the classic carol Silent Night. Truly the magical season.

Here is a full track list:

Hildegard von Bingen, O nobilissima viriditas

Josquin des Prez, Ave Maria

Thomas Tallis, Gloria (from his Christmas mass, Missa Puer natus est)

William Byrd, O magnum mysterium

Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Noels sur Les Instruments (excerpt)

Arcangelo Corelli, Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 8 in G “fatto per la notte di natale” (excerpt)

Antonio Vivaldi, Concerto in E Major, RV 270 “Il Riposo . . . per il natale” I. Allegro.

George Frideric Handel, Messiah, 12. For Unto Us a Child Is Born

Johan Sebastian Bach, Gloria in exelsis Deo, BWV 191, (excerpt)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Three German Dances K. 605, No. 3 in C Major “Die Schlittenfahrt

Franz Schubert, Ave Maria

Felix Mendelssohn, Festgesang, No. 2

Hector Berlioz, L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25: L’adieu des Bergers a la Sainte Famille

Camille Saint-Saens, Oratorio de Noel, Op. 12 (excerpt)

Franz Liszt, Weihnactsbaum, S. 185a: No. 3, Die Hirten an der Krippe

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Gustav Holst, In The Bleak Mid Winter

Arnold Schoenberg, Weihnactsmusik (excerpt)

Sergei Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kije, Op. 60: Troika

Benjamin Britten, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28: Wolcum Yole!

Francis Poulenc, Quatre motets pourle temps de Noel, IV. Hodie Chrisus natus est

Arvo Part, Bogoroditse Devo

One thought on “A Gertus History of Christmas Music

  1. Byrd’s O Magnum Mysterium is as good as it gets, bar none, for the noel season. Well done. That said, the absence of Elgar casts aspersions on your credibility. Signed—a cellist.


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