Posts Tagged ‘Christmas music


10 fresh and underrated classical holiday pieces

Holiday music can be pleasant and refreshing as long as it’s . . . well, good. We comfort creatures don’t mind the familiar, but even the most spirited among us eventually tire of Messiah, The Nutcracker, and Sleigh Ride.

That’s where andante mosso steps in, bringing you, courtesy of YouTube, 10 classical pieces that can make for fine holiday listening—and you won’t find sleigh bells or whip cracks in any of them:

1 – Ubi caritas from Four Motets on Gregorian Themes – Maurice Duruflé

Maurice Duruflé (1902 – 1986) was a French organist and composer whose works, including the famous Requiem, are largely based on melodies from plainsong chant harmonized and developed in interesting ways. This motet, Ubi caritas et amor (Deus ibi est) / Where there is charity and love (God is there), is a simple, warm, lovely tribute to the spirit of Christmas, performed here by the Cambridge Singers.

2 – Chorus: “Jauchzet, Frolocket” from The Christmas Oratorio – J.S. Bach

One of the most underplayed Christmas masterworks in the repertoire, Bach’s monumental Weinachtsoratorium deserves, even among speakers of English, no less attention than Handel’s vastly more famous contribution. In the opening chorus, presented by John Eliot Gardiner and his amazing Monteverdi Choir, the listener is extolled to “rise up and praise” the Christmas miracle.

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Poulenc: O magnum mysterium

O magnum mysterium / O great mystery
et admirabile sacramentum / and wonderful sacrament
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum / that animals should see the new-born Lord
jacentem in praesepio! / lying in a manger!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera / Blessed is the Virgin, whose womb
meruerunt portare / was worthy to carry
Dominum Christum. / Christ the Lord.

O magnum mysterium originated as a responsorial chant in the Christmas Matins. It has long been a favorite text for motets—two of the best known settings are those by the Spanish Renaissance master Tomás Luis de Victoria and the contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen. This motet by 20th Century French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) is probably my favorite; its texture is straightforward and unassuming, and the melody and harmony seem to fit the text impeccably well.

This video is nice because you can follow the score as you listen, should you be so inclined. I can’t identify the ensemble, but the use of all male voices gives the piece a becomingly ethereal cast.