Our Favourite Christmas Music
By TJ Wilkshire
While we’re humming Jingle Bells around the studio and adorning our office with tinsel, we’re reflecting on the orchestral Christmas favourites that really get us in the festive mood.
Mariah Carey might have a monopoly on Christmas pop but there are few classical composers that we think take the cake (or, pudding rather) when it comes to festive melodies.
Here’s our favourite classical Christmas music.
#'Silent Night' (1818)
Franz Xaver Gruber
In 2011, Silent Night or Stille Nacht was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO and to this day, Bing Crosby’s version is the fourth best-selling single of all-time. The story goes that in 1818 it was performed on Christmas Eve in a parish church in Oberndorf in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had brought the lyrics to Gruber and asked him to compose some music that didn’t feature the church organ (which had been damaged some days before). The result was a masterpiece that captured the essence of the Christian faith during the festive season.
George Frideric Handel
It’s easy to forget, what with all the gifts, Christmas trees, Michael Bublé covers and candy canes, that historically Christmas is actually the story of the birth of Christ. Over the last two centuries, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has achieved a sacred status as the festive performance to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After Handel’s death, Messiah grew in status and in size – in 1859 the work was performed with a chorus of 2,000 and an orchestra of 460. We can barely begin to fathom cramming all those artists into the QPAC Concert Hall (and luckily, we don’t have to). This reverent composition of sublime sounds and holy lyrics is a testament to Handel’s creative genius, and marked his foray from opera into oratorio.
#‘Winter’ from 'The Four Seasons'
What does it mean to sound ‘Christmassy’? Joyful strings? An organ solo? Cheerful timpani? Or is it a melody that evokes the cold season of Christmas? (In this instance, we’re going to ignore the fact that Queensland Christmases are spent with our feet in the pool, sipping on frozen drinks). Vivaldi’s Winter is the final movement in his The Four Seasons symphony and evokes the brightness of winter snow accompanied by the chaotic feeling of the impending festive season – fast strings and rapid flutes gets us into the spirit of manic last-minute Christmas shopping.
#'The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' (1882) from 'The Nutcracker'
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Many would argue that this theme from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is the epitome of the festive season – the sound is fun, mischievous and perfectly captures falling asleep on Christmas Eve in anticipation of the morning to come. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is a masterpiece of music – songs like Waltz of the Flowers bring out the beauty of the harp and the use of strings in The Prince and the Sugar-Plum Fairy takes us into a dream-like happiness, but it’s The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that is the quintessential Christmas tune.
In Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Tchaikovsky uses a new instrument invented only six years prior – the celeste. The celestial piano-like instrument has a distinct sound that’s hard to miss – you might even mistake it for the pitter patter of delicate fairy feet (or perhaps children sneaking out to catch Santa in the act!). The high-pitched notes created by the celeste were used by Tchaikovsky to create that unique sound that complimented so well with the ballerina’s delicate dance.