Sunday, December 1, 2013

Classical Music for Christmas

I love the Christmas season, everything from the decorations to the delicious food. It's a wonderful time to celebrate love and family. As a musician, I enjoy Christmas music, and I've played in performances of great classics like the Nutcracker to modern shows with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Since I love classical music as well as Christmas, here are three classical pieces that celebrate the holiday season!

1. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

Many ballet companies perform the Nutcracker as a Christmas tradition. Not only is the dancing beautiful, but the music is lovely. Don't listen to just the traditional dances--the entire ballet is full of evocative music. I love listening to the first half of the ballet in particular; you can hear contrasting sections of music that reflect little boys and girls playing while their parents enjoy a stately dance, an exciting battle between the mice and the toy soldiers, and the glorious "snowflake" song. The Nutcracker captures the mystery and magic of Christmas without feeling too saccharine. It's traditional, yet it's not nearly as over-played as songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which keeps it fresh.

2. Handel's Messiah

The Messiah is a gorgeous baroque oratorio (a piece for soloists, choir, and orchestra). It has three parts, the first of which is traditionally performed at Christmastime, since its text focuses on the biblical prophesies that predicted the birth of Jesus to the annunciation to the shepherds. The second and third parts are traditionally performed at Easter, since they depict the Passion and the Resurrection. I love this piece for its power; the choir and orchestra capture the majesty of Christmas. If the Nutcracker depicts the magical, dreamlike side of the holiday, the Messiah depicts its religious mystery and awe.

3. J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio (Weihnachts-Oratorium)

This season, I decided to look for new Christmas music, since I've listened to traditional holiday music quite a bit and wanted a change. I discovered Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which is a glorious piece of music. Originally performed over six days, it tells the story of Christmas from the birth of Jesus to the adoration of the Magi. The music is sublime and refreshing, yet still traditional baroque. For musicians used to hearing Bach's works for solo instruments, like the cello suites or the violin sonatas, it's striking to hear such a large scale work from the great master composer. The music is profound, but with a unexpected depth of passion that makes this fascinating to hear. 

I'm always looking to discover more Christmas classics, so feel free to leave a comment if you have any suggestions for me to listen to.


  1. How about Bach' s Canon in D Major meets Christmas in "Christmas Canon" by Transiberian Orchestra. My two favorites collided. It is beautifully done. :)

  2. I know that piece! It's so much fun to play.

  3. I think I've played Handel's Messiah so many times, I have all the notes memorized! Those are definitely Christmas classics!

  4. I know how that is! I'm played the Messiah and the Nutcracker so many times and I still love the music.

  5. These are all 13th to 19th century songs you might enjoy (some, of course, very familiar):

  6. I do believe there may be some Christmas oratorios by other composers such as Heinrich Schutz or even Saint-Saens, the composer of Carnival of the Animals. You could also spare a thought for Britten's Ceremony of Carols and A Boy Was Born, and even the Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson.