As one who often speaks about reclaiming and restoring the Classic Christian heritage of the West, the subject of Christian Holy days and seasons often comes up. One of the ways the church and its people have expressed the joy of seasons such as Christmas and Easter is of course through music. Not just any music, or the pabulum you hear at the department store or on the “Adult contemporary” station, but actual art music that attempts (and I would argue, sometimes succeeds) at reaching the transcendent. With this in mind, I am compiling a sort of “playlist” for the 12 days of Christmastide, and if you observed Advent (like many Western Christians do), you should not be “burned out” like much of the rest of the world. So here is part 1 of my “Music for Christmastide” series.
Through all 12 Days: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There are several reasons for this. One, Bach is the master when it comes to music with a message (rarely if ever equaled), the piece is deep and stands up to many hearings (unlike most Christmas music), and the work itself is a compilation of 6 different sections gathered together. Part 1 is for Christmas Day, Part 2 is for the Shepherds (Dec. 26th), Part 3 is for the adoration of the Shepherds (Dec. 27th), Part 4 is for New Year’s Day (Jesus’ circumcision and name day), Part 5 is for the Journey of the Magi (First Sunday in January), and Part 6 is for Epiphany, the visit of the wise men, and the end of Christmastide. So in other words, this is a piece that you can “live with” for the entire Christmastide season. Amazingly, there is an excellent video on YouTube with period instruments and English subtitles in which the applause breaks up the 6 sections. I highly commend it:
Day 1 (Dec. 25th):Handel’s Messiah, Part I. Even though this piece is ubiquitous during Advent and Christmastide, it really is a great piece of music, especially when your sole experience of it is not “sing alongs”. Handel was master melodist and so effective that Mozart famously said “when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt!” Handel was also Beethoven’s favorite composer, and Haydn was so moved by Messiah that it was an inspiration for his late great oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons). Part I gets you into the Biblical text in English, and demonstrates musically how the Old Testament is about Christ. This is perfect for the contemplation of the text. My favorite recording is with McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, but this video is infectiously energetic:
Day 2 (Dec. 26th): Italian Christmas Concertos. In the Roman church during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became common practice for famous composers of the time to write “Christmas concertos,” so-named because the concluding movement was often a “pastorale” which evoked the peace and serenity of the Holy Nativity, and the performances were often given during Christmastide. Corelli’s is probably the most famous, but Manfredini, Vivaldi, Torelli, and many others contributed to this genre. There several collections of these on the market like this one, and the YouTube playlist below should provide a good taste.
Day’s 3 and 4 soon to come…